Eliza Neals, Sweet or Mean, E-H Records.
Raw, emotional, gut-wrenching, rasping, gritty – where do you start and stop to describe the incomparable Eliza Neals? She’s not only a fine vocalist, she can write a show-stopping blues tune too. All of which you’ll find out, listening to Sweet or Mean, her latest release, a six-song EP.
The album – cruelly, much too abbreviated – kicks off with a real rocker, Pawn Shop Blues, which will have you stopping whatever you happen to be doing, to start shamelessly dancing. From the opening drum roll and the explosion of Popa Chubby’s searing, driving guitar, you’ve got a smile on your face all the way through the track, as you rock to the fine musicianship of Ian Hendrikson-Smith on saxophone (Jimmy Fallon’s band), Michael Leonhart on trumpet, Dave Keyes, top-notch keyboard player, Chris Gambaro-Vega on bass and blues drummer, John Medeiros Jr. This is a seriously good band which combines to achingly good effect with the vocal powerhouse that is Eliza Neals.
Blackish Gray is a slight change of pace and features a great interplay between Neals’ singing and Ted Horowitz’s (Poppa Chubby) soulful guitar work. Bitten By the Blues follows references Eliza Neals’ home town, Detroit, where she’s won numerous Music Awards – she’s “a rock and roll girl who’s been bitten by the blues” and “please don’t make me choose.” No need to choose when you’re making music like this, Eliza. (Nice song title, by the way, especially given the fine recent biography of blues label found, Bruce Iglauer – check out our interview and review here.)
Livin’ With Yo Mama is a slow, searing number, with Horowitz’s guitar smouldering along in accompaniment to Neals’ impassioned vocals. We then have the short, Knock, Knock Knockin’, featuring a rare outing for Horowitz on acoustic guitar and the “sweet or mean” lyric that gives the album its title, before a final rendition of the thumpingly good Pawn Shop Blues.
All in all, a hugely enjoyable – but short – blues-rock treat from the hugely talented Eliza Neals, accompanied by a very talented group of musicians and featuring the excellent guitar work and production skills of Ted Horowitz.