Well, lets get it over with first. The cover picture. In an interview Ana says it symbolizes that nothing comes between her and her music. Blues is the barest of musical forms and certainly the cover shot proves it’s not all about gnarled old black men. But will some people be saying that “If the record was worth buying, they wouldn’t need to hard sell the cover!” Ultimately, if it’s a good record, does it matter why someone initially decided to buy it? So is it a good record? Read on…
This is not a Blues album by Ana Popovic, but an Ana Popovic Blues Album. Guess I need to explain that, because it’s important. Certainly, basic Blues rhythms are on offer, along with a lot of tasty slidework and a suitably raw vocal where needed. Popovic though is not just into copying. She adds her own colour to the mix and whilst it’s not always blue, it is always recognizably Ana Popovic. This CD, along with her recent performance supporting BB King, convince me that she is in that rare eliteof guitar player with a guitar sound of their very own – the short, slightly jazzy trill of notes that says this is her Blues and nobody elses.
Authentic Blues is a tricky business though, and on ‘One room country shack’ She’s “Waking up early in the morning” with just a 10 foot cotton sack for company. The imagery might work for BB King, but not for Ana Popovic. Similarly on ‘Work Song’ where the music’s great but the sentiments seem false. Ana breaking rocks in a chain gang? Close your eyes. Can you see it? Me neither. It’s like imagining Elton John on a Highway to hell.
There are some real gems on this disc though, and they shine most brightly when Ana’s Blues draw on her own experiences and feelings and observations rather than seeking to conjur those of other people. Track one, ‘Fearless’, for example. Is she singing about ‘I’ as herself or as women in general? The layers are there, as are the feelings. A powerful song with a message, or not – It’s up to the listener, but the gutsy vocal suggests a woman who means business, and that attitude carries over onto track two, ‘Count Me In’ with it’s swaggering bravado and breakneck pace courtesy of drummer Doug Belote and particularly the fiery Blues Harp of Jason Ricci. “If you’re looking for adventure – you can count me in.” Ana looking for adventure? Close your eyes. Can you see THAT? Yes, indeed.
‘Unconditional’, the title track, is both vocally and musically soft and silky. Also, maybe not unintentionally, it provides a counter question to the previous ‘Blind for Love’ CD’s title track. Does love blind us to the faults of others? Or do we accept those faults because love is unconditional? If you don’t feel like analysing then just sit back and enjoy the sparse vibe of the production and particularly Ana’s interplay with Jon Cleary’s keyboard – musical Heaven.
‘Reset Rewind’ has a Bluesy melancholy with it’s wistful desire to go back in our lives and touch base with a time when we were starting out on the paths of our lives. It’s an old theme but the title gives it a fresh twist. No ‘turning back the clock’ here, just a wish that we could press buttons to undo what’s done. Proof if proof were needed that whilst feelings don’t change, the imagery to express them does. ‘Slideshow’ is the discs only instrumental and could prove to replace ‘Navajo Moon’ as a live ‘tour de force’. An infectious melody that tilts very slightly in the direction of Rory Gallaghers ‘The Loop’ but with Ana’s unique sound stamped on every lick.
‘Business as Usual’ is a bleak, bitter song and takes some listens to grow on the ear. It has a ring of authenticity that tracks like ‘Work Song’ lack. Of emotions observed rather than constructed. The ‘Business’ in question is a relationship where love has become nothing more than habit – Going through the motions, rather than emotions. The song itself is so aggressive that when Ana’s featherlight solo comes in it’s a shock – just when we expect Slash we get Snowy White so to speak. Next up is ‘Your love aint real’ and again we’re dealing with a protagonist who’s finding love is not all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe the album should have been titled ‘Love, Smoke & Mirrors’?
It’s almost an emotional relief to hear ‘Work Song’, just because it has no pretences to be anything other than a reconstruction of good old fashioned Blues. ‘Summer Rain’ is also a relief. This time because of it’s Summery lightness and also because of it’s evocative lyrics – amongst Ana’s best yet. “Rain grows cold on naked skin”… You can almost see the shower soaked bodies and feel the warm raindrops on this one. Excellent production too from John Porter throughout this disc. The sound is warm and clear without getting trebly, although I’d like to hear a bit more bass in the mix.
If I had to pick a favourite track from the CD it would be ‘Voodoo Woman’. It manages a female take on Muddy Waters with an irresistable shuffle beat – not to mention some searing bottleneck guitar from the ‘Voodoo Woman’ herself. ‘One room country shack’ is a well played slow blues that I would love without the cotton sack reference, instead sticking to a modern scenario. Once again though John Cleary’s keyboards are spot on with the texture and atmosphere. Finally, a straight out rock n roller in the shape of ‘Soulful Dress’ to close things out with a party atmosphere.
On balance then you get a lyrically very thoughtful, and musically a finely crafted CD from a uniquely talented guitarist – great music; and the sexy cover is a nice bonus.
Ana Popovic – Unconditional will be released on 16 August