Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Emanuel Casablanca - Strung Out On Thrills

Grooves.  Big fat grooves.  Big, fat, bass-heavy grooves.  That’s the first thing that grabs my attention on this second album by Brooklyn-based singer and guitarist Emanual Casablanca. EC and his co-producer Paul Howells must have really liked the rolling rumble laid down by, variously, Julian Chabot and Sam Lazarev on eight of the tracks here, because they sure do capture it in guttural, reverberating splendour.
Now, there’s more to Strung Out On Thrills than the low-down plunking stuff, but it’s a good start. The opener ‘Dogshit’ uses it as the launchpad for a grinding complaint about a deceitful woman, its toughened-up ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ kinda tune given an extra boost by guest guitar slinger
Emanuel Casablanca - Is that the face of a bad boy?
Pic by Natalija Bubalo
Joanna Connor’s sizzling, squealing slide playing. There’s a similar insistent swagger to the title track, as Casablanca edgily bemoans the fact that none of his familiar thrills, whether drugs, booze or women, do it for it him anymore.  Then, cleverly, some acoustic strumming surfaces, and the track mellows out as Casablanca discovers that the thrill he really needs is love.  Which in turn is a prompt for the sweetness of the following ‘Visceral’, on which our Emanuel explores his inner Sam Cooke over washes of organ and some lyrical guitar – until things turn sour with his baby, and guitar-laden angst ensues in tandem with the guesting Laurence Henderson. There’s more restraint on display with ‘The Farm’ though, twinkling acoustic guitar over a throbbing rhythm forming the basis for a conversational vocal.
I wouldn’t call what Casablanca does blues-rock, but ‘King’ is still a rocking strut of a thing, as he insists that wherever he takes his guitar folks’ jaws are going to drop at His Royalness – and the wiry guitar tone he deploys here is definitely attention-grabbing.  And there’s plenty swagger to the following ‘Pistolero’ too, a don’t-mess-with-me gunman tale on which Big Apple Spanish guitar picker Salvo pops up to throw a Hispanic curve into the churning mix, before Casablanca digs out a piercing solo as drummer Blaque Dynamite (yes, really) flexes his muscles.  Then the incongruously titled ‘Lass’ pairs up Sam Lazarov’s booming bass with the signature scraping slide of Joanna Connor once again, while one Kelli Baker pops up to deliver a fierce vocal on the tail end of the track.
Truth be told the melodies aren't exactly that original.  But Casablanca, while not a pull-out-all-the-stops blues bawler, is a smart enough vocalist to give his songs plenty of character. His voice is hot-chocolate-rich when he wants, or assertively in-your-face, or higher and edgier à la Cedric Burnside on occasions.  There are twists and turns to liven things up too, whether it’s the squelchy guitar tone he finds on ‘Bastard’, the nippy slide from the aptly-named Elliott Sharp on ‘Morning Wood’, or Casablanca’s poetic quasi-rap over the funky drums of Max Freedberg on the second half of the previously straightahead, bass-grooving ‘Pearl’.  And on the bonus track ‘My Life’s Fire’ he conjures up a distinctly airy, acoustically-orientated vibe, with a lighter vocal, snappier drums and a dreamy synth line.
Casablanca’s uses “badboyofblues” for all his social media handles, and with his often cocksure lyrics is maybe trying to cultivate a rogue-ish persona.  Yeah well, whatever – I reckon he’s a more intriguing character than that.  Strung Out On Thrills is a grower of an album, subtler than it might seem at first blush. Emanuel Casablanca may not be a household blues name just yet, but on the strength of this outing he has buckets of potential, and is definitely one to watch.
Strung Out On Thrills is released by Vinyl Recording Group on 2 February.

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