As the saying goes, if you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t really there. Not a single member of my generation is going to forget the year of 2020, or the three years preceding it. But, with Holy Moly!, the third studio album from retro-rockers Blues Pills (with whom we spoke in April), we can escape our hellish fate for a while and enjoy the free-wheeling, hedonistic spirit of the ‘60s as if we were there ourselves.
It’s their third studio album so far, and their first without guitarist Dorian Sorriaux. In his place, Zack Anderson has moved from bass to lead guitar duties, and they’ve recruited Kristoffer Schander for bass. Otherwise, with all due respect to Sorriaux, if you weren’t aware of the line-up changes, you wouldn’t know anything had changed. The bluesy-woozy stoner-tinged riffs are free-flowing, the psychedelia is high, and Elin Larsson’s vocal delivery is as powerful as it’s ever been. The mixing by Andrew Scheps honours their fuzzy ‘60s-stoner sound, while still making the songs feel crisp and fresh and new – as only to be expected from someone who has worked with Black Sabbath. So far, so groovy.
And what a groove it is. The toe-tapping tempo of each song is buoyed by the drumming of André Kvarnström who, with Schander on bass, creates a solid underpinning of bluesy grooves which Anderson builds on for some truly electric guitar leads. The restraint the instrumentalists show in not allowing this to explode into full-blown Jimi Hendrix histrionics is impressive. Anderson’s move to lead guitar seems to have awakened a creative beast, one which this reviewer is incredibly happy to hear roaring away. The playing across “Kiss My Past Goodbye” is truly phenomenal, especially during the instrumental section: all three musicians truly cut loose, making it undeniably the best song on the album.
All of this taken together highlights the incredible chemistry of the new lineup but also marks the growth of the band as a whole. Sorriaux’s playing was excellent, and the group’s first two albums are testaments to that. Anderson isn’t reinventing Blues Pills’ sound, he’s just taking it further down the road Sorriaux set them on. Equally, there’s not much between the two in terms of virtuosity: both are excellent guitarists and, sad as it is to see any member leave, Anderson does a superb job building his own sound on the foundations laid by Sorriaux. It’s the kind of sound of which Hendrix would be proud, and slots the band neatly in with contemporaries like Graveyard, or Kadavar even as it allows them to carve out their own unique niche.
Other highlights include the truly soulful “Wish I’d Known,” which adopts a more laid-back tempo and quieter guitars (yes, that is possible) to truly centre Larsson’s voice. Elsewhere, the album’s true closer is the epic “Song From A Mourning Dove,” which as the record’s longest song, builds to an excellent climax. But what comes after is a beautiful epilogue in the form of “Longest Lasting Friend.” Shedding the bass and drums, Anderson and Larsson close out the album with a truly bluesy ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place in a late-opening Memphis dive bar.
The only sticking point is “California.” Immediately, listeners are transported to the heyday of the Motown era, which has definitely had a strong influence on the band at large. Unfortunately, Larsson overblows her vocals. There’s a rasp on the edge of the higher and sustained notes that cuts through the listener uncomfortably. Her vocal delivery is truly impressive: the opening of “Devil Man” from the EP of the same name is hugely powerful. It immediately grabs the listener’s attention and holds it tight for the rest of the song. By contrast, the raspy notes of “California” feel like an attempt to emulate Aretha Franklin. Franklin’s voice was a singularly incredible sound: trying to imitate that does both singers a disservice, especially when Larsson’s own delivery is so good as it is.
One dud note aside, Holy Moly! is a superb addition to the Blues Pills canon. It may not quite be their best work, but it’s a strong cornerstone on which the band can only build to bigger and better things.
Holy Moly! Track Listing:
1. Proud Woman
2. Low Road
3. Dreaming My Life Away
5. Rhythm in the Blood
7. Kiss My Past Goodbye
8. Wish I’d Known
9. Bye Bye Birdie
10. Song From A Mourning Dove
11. Longest Lasting Friend
Run Time: 41:32
Release Date: August 21, 2020
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records