"One Way Ticket To The Blues," the initial outing by Canada's Blues Parlour, is an unpretentious collection of blue-collar blues, most of 'em originals, with a dash of soul and an equal dollop of funk.
I'm not sure, however, that "parlour" is quite the right word, conjuring as it does images both genteel and refined; these guys neither look nor sound as though they'd be comfortable in anything other than a smoky club where the music's loud and dancing is the raison d'etre.
Powered by the twin-guitar attack of co-producers Hugh Hardy and Mike Battram (who also contributes harmonica as well as handling most of the vocals), Blues Parlour spent years playing covers in clubs and at parties before deciding to try their hand at writing. With the now-solid rhythm section of John Shand on bass and vocals and drummer Ian Black, "Ticket" features seven originals, along with four lesser-known covers that fit well with the band's style.
The opener, "Never Give Up On Love," is a funky workout that sounds a bit like a harder-edged George Benson tune, with scatting vocals mirrored by deft fretwork; next is "Back In My Arms," which applies a catchy melody to a fairly basic shuffle, accented nicely by Mr. Battram's simple but effective harp. "If You Need Me" returns to funk territory, its stinging leads supported by chunky rhythm guitar. The vocal emphasis provided by Mr. Shand is a nice touch here, and the complexity of the arrangement shows both intelligent songcraft and tight ensemble playing.
Mr. Shand steps up front for "If You Need Me," a swampy ballad and the first of the covers. There's a heartfelt honesty on this one, with John's vocals a highlight of the disc. Also of note is the contribution of guest Vik Cassis on B3, all smoky blue late-night mood.
"She's In Love," from the pen of Ottawa's Tony D, is a driving shuffle with a touch of rockabilly raucousness about it. The title track follows, another late-night burner featuring Mr. Cassis and, again, exquisite give-and-take between the guitars.
"Hindsight" is a mid-tempo grinder driven by rollicking piano courtesy of John Howard, with a nice break in the bridge and a wry lyric viewpoint on the kind of mistakes we've all made in life. "My Baby Got The Love" gives its writer, Mr. Shand, another chance to show he's anyone's vocal equal. A full-fledged horn section and backup singers give this one a knockout punch. Roy Head's old chestnut, "Treat Her Right," is a flat-out rocker, with a harp break reminiscent in both tone and execution of early Yardbirds. "When You're Not Around" is another swamp-funk tune with some genuinely nasty slide; things wrap up with Guitar Slim's "Letter To My Girlfriend," marking the return of the horns for a swinging rave-up and fitting closer.
While tempos may be just a bit leaden in places, there's much craft in evidence throughout "Ticket," particularly in the guitar interplay between Mr. Hardy and Mr. Battram; their genuine affection for each other's playing is readily apparent, each proving an ideal foil for the other. Both production and packaging are first-rate.
Blues Parlour is a unit with staying power; I look forward to hearing more!
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