sun 21/04/2019

CD: Leyla McCalla - The Capitalist Blues | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Leyla McCalla - The Capitalist Blues

CD: Leyla McCalla - The Capitalist Blues

A fully engaging third album that could have been too diverse for its own good

Who doesn’t like the rolling swagger of a bunch of seasoned Louisiana musicians? And that’s what New Yorker McCalla has assembled here to create a wider sound pallet for her third album. But we don’t just get a dozen generic New Orleans jazz tunes here. There’s also a calypso, a Zydeco dance number, a rollicking boogie-woogie and a doom-laden rocker with a Hendrix-style solo from Jimmy Horn that's like a knife slashing a canvas. And then to go straight into a Hawaiian guitar-drenched ballad?! I’ve not heard such a delightful collision of moods since the Velvets set “The Black Angel Death Song” down next to “I’ll be Your Mirror”.

However, there’s a risk that the core identity of a musician could get subsumed by trying on too many different styles on one record. Not in McCalla’s case. The whole thing binds surprisingly well, largely because her unique vocal style lends a cohesion that otherwise might have been lacking. Her unhurried, unstrained, some might even say languorous delivery creates an agreeable tension on the more up-tempo numbers in particular.

Overall, The Capitalist Blues is remarkably upbeat given its themes of rampant Machiavellian capitalism, bombs dropping ‘in the name of peace’ and murderers becoming president. But why indeed not? The blues doesn’t always have to be sung in a minor key. And in such scary times we need to transcend not wallow. As if to hammer this point home, the final track “Settle Down” borrows its spinning-top intensity from the traditional Haitian Rara form. The song continues for over two more minutes as an intrumental after McCalla’s final vocal utterance: ‘The spirit can’t be controlled’ – a proclamation that says it all.

I only have one minor caveat: McCalla doesn’t play her trademark cello even once here. While I understand her fear of being pigeonholed as the singing cellist, the instrument and her unique way of strumming it gave her best songs a very specific and haunting sonic signature. 

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