Recommendation: The Blue Pearls, “Watch Out”
As rock and blues music lost its cultural currency, the keepers of their flames have intensified their efforts to protect and nourish the sometimes guttering candle.
New acolytes are born each day, listeners and musicians alike, and all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have never lost the faith, fanning the flames, keeping the signal fires alive to light the way for others to follow.
Bela Stephens and his band The Blue Pearls epitomize this tradition.
A Swedish blues / rock band inspired by British musicians playing music originating in the U.S., Stephens set out on this path in 1968 and never looked back.
In the same way that Peter Green built his sound on those who came before him, (B.B., Freddie King, Otis Rush, etc.), Stephens makes no secret of admiration for the playing of Peter Green.
On the full-length CD “Watch Out” Stephens wrote six of the discs nine songs (there are also two Green-era Fleetwood Mac covers, and a cover of Steely Dan’s ‘Pretzel Logic’)
The opening track, ‘It’s All In Your Head’ stakes out the territory that the band will be covering. A powerful slow blues, written by Bela Stephens, it is a perfect showcase for the band’s strengths; Perry Marshall’s vocal is given strong support by the band and Stephen’s solos echo and amplify the song’s message.
‘Livin’ a Lie’ offers a bit of respite, a wonderfully funky little number built upon a slowed down ‘Stop Messin’ Round’ rhythm. The rhythm section truly swings, and effortlessly digs a toe-tapping groove.
‘People’ another Stephens original, is for me, a highlight of the collection. It is on numbers such as this that Stephens truly pays homage to Green; not by imitating his sound, but by applying the lessons learned from him. The number spotlights Stephens guitar, but the playing is always in the service of the song.
Featuring one of Marshall’s finest vocals, Stephens’ guitar weeps and sings alongside him, underlining, not capitalizing the deep emotions. His solos build naturally, rising and falling with the gravity of one unburdening themselves of a private pain kept secret for too long.
‘Charmed of the Moonlight’ and ‘Hell and Gone’ switch gears, featuring a harder, rock-tinged edge. The former must be a powerhouse live number as Stephens cuts loose over the relentlessly churning riff, returning the wah-wah pedal to its pride of place in the rock canon.
The latter lightens things up with an infectious beat and joyous solo that reminds one of Rory Gallagher. The adrenaline rush of the playing (hats off to the drummer here) delivers a satisfying frisson with the vengeful lyrics.
‘Listen Johnny’, a cautionary tale of celebrity downshifts the mood; after the blues and rock, this jazzy number strips away any sense of homage or influence, allowing us to hear yet another aspect of Stephens’ writing and musicianship.
This in turn sets up fine cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Watch Out’. Here again, Stephens takes a page from Green’s book, remaining faithful to the original while putting his own stamp on the song. As with the opening track, the interaction between the musicians is a pleasure to hear as they work as one, each member supporting and complimenting the other.
‘Pretzel Logic’ comes next and then a fourteen minute live version of ‘Rattlesnake Shake’ a wonderful cover that again allows Stephens and the band to both pay tribute and bring their own sensibilities to the number. Stephens truly shines on the ‘Madge’ section and the mercurial shifts of ‘Underway’.
This is music written and performed from the heart, born of need to express oneself and to share the joys and heartbreaks that join us all as humans. What more can one ask for?
The recordings can be found at the Blue Pearls website: http://www.thebluepearls.com/mp3.htm