Eliza Neals, Black Crow Moan

Eliza Neals, Black Crow Moan, E-H Records

Black Crow Moan is another “best album yet” from the talented Detroit-based Eliza Neals. It’s honest-to-goodness blues rock, choc full of attitude, sass, top-notch musicianship, and downright good fun.

Down at the Crossroads has enjoyed Ms. Neals’ last couple of albums, 10,000 Feet Below and Breaking and Entering, both featuring her powerhouse vocals and blues-drenched song-writing. But Black Crow Moan moves things on apace. She said herself, in a recent interview, “I learn and get better. You start out, and you think that’s like the best thing you ever did, and you keep going, and thank God, it gets better.” And better it has, indeed, got.

Neals is backed up by an excellent band, and is joined for several tracks by guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Derek St. Holmes. The songs were all written or co-written by Neals, except for a cover of Big Mama Thornton’s Ball and Chain.

Neals gets stuck in straight away on Don’t Judge the Blues, her arresting vocals accompanied by some driving, mesmerizing slide guitar. Stellar guitar work, alongside Eliza Neals vocal performance is a hallmark of this album. Joe Louis Walker joins her in the title track, with some characteristically cool licks, and we hear his searing electric guitar again on The Devil Don’t Love You, which he co-wrote with Neals. The lyrics are very typical Joe Louis Walker, with that gospel vibe and the well-worn gospel blues line “don’t let the devil ride.” It’s a terrific song, with Walker sharing in the vocals and Neals singing like she’s gonna convert you if it’s the last thing she does.

The other guest guitarist, Derek St. Holmes, appears on a couple of the final tracks of the album, including Big Mama Thornton’s Ball and Chain. This is a slow, simmering track where Eliza Neals digs deep and St. Holmes’ searing guitar keeps the whole mixture scalding hot. Never Stray is another slow burner, tailor made for St. Holmes’ clean guitar tone, which is never overdone, but always gripping.

The interplay between guitar and vocals on Watch Me Fly is pretty typical of the album as a whole, the guitar work hugely enjoyable but rightly playing second fiddle to Neals’ inspired singing.

Eliza Neals has, for sure, paid her dues. She has a university degree in music, has studied opera and she reports having sung “five nights a week in every rock, jazz, and blues club in Detroit since I’ve been seventeen, eighteen years old.” That’s why you’re hearing in this album some depth in the song writing and a maturity in her singing that brings whatever’s need in a song to make it communicate and connect with you, especially emotionally. River Is Rising is a case in point, another slow blues, another chance for Ms Neals to reach inside you and pull you right inside the song.

Black Crow Moan is one of the best blues rock albums you’ll hear all year, with Eliza Neals and her group of musicians playing straight out of their hearts and souls. She said that “When I hear music, I just let it all out.” And that’s just what you’ll hear on this album.