One of my favourite Blues CD’s of 2009 was the collaboration by Henrik Freischlader/Martin Meinschäfer. Hearing that the two were behind the latest disc, ‘Sleep Little Girl’ by Canadian vocalist Layla Zoe made this a ‘must hear; for me, Is it what I’d hoped?
What I had hoped for on this CD was Meinschläfers dry, raw mix that gave Freischlader’s CD such an air of intensity. ‘Sleep Little Girl’ certainly does not disappoint on that score. Fortunately I got to meet Layla Zoe when she premiered the CD here in Bonn and I can say that she is a lady dedicated to her music and am pleased to further say that her dedication comes across very clearly with Meinschhäfers sound. What I’d feared before listening was that each track, having Freischlader on Guitar, bass and drums, was outnumbering the vocalist three to one. Fortunately though Layla Zoe has a voice strong enough to imprint her own character firmly on each of the songs and it’s only on ‘Rock n Roll Guitar Man’ that HF really starts to edge into the leading lady’s spotlight – which on this particular track is really, given its subject matter, as it should be.
The rest of the CD belongs to the self styled ‘Firegirl’ herself. Does she sound like Joplin? Yes she often does. But she is also very much her own self. All the songs here are self-penned. ‘Lyrics and melody by Layla Zoe’ as it states in the tastefully designed booklet.
If there’s any doubt that this is a singers album it’s dispersed in the first line of the disc. Layla’s voice hammers in on the very top of the mix – “I’m going down” she roars – and we will follow her as in the course of ten songs she also comes back up before heading down again in a roller coaster of emotions and styles.
Spirits are up on numbers like ‘Give it to me’ with it’s funky melody reminiscent of Freischladers popular ‘Whats My Name’. ‘Lets get crazy’ with its text book RnB boogie and a sprinkling of great keyboard from Moritz Fuhrhop on the fabulous ‘Pull Yourself Together’ with Layla’s exclamation: “I’m married to the Music, and the Music is my Force”. Take that Luke Skywalker!
Roller coasters don’t just go up though, and this disc also takes the listener down. ‘I Hope She Loves You Like I Do’ sounds like the remake of an old 50’s Soul classic. Indeed I can almost see the female black backing singers in a grainy piece of film footage when I hear this. The booklet says Backing vox are Freischlader though – so yet another string to the mans talented bow. ‘Black Oil’ was the stand-out song live for me and it’s just as stand out on the CD with it’s deep, resonant bass and bleak ‘Still Got The Blues’ guitar courtesy of you know who. The subject matter too is of course bleak – the ocean weeping ‘Salty Tears’ at its pollution. A song that I fear, like Mctells ‘Streets of London’ will be looked on many years after its release as still being relevant. Will man ever learn the lessons music teaches it?
Between the ups and downs are the middles – like ‘Hippie Chick’. Is this about Janis? It could also be about Layla? “She’s taking over your City, That big voice her claim to fame”. Whoever the subject, I love the 60’s Sitar sound and the breathy closing vocals.
The frivolous ‘Rock n Roll Guitar Man’ is a nice counterpoint to the intense ‘Black Oil’. Who can resist such tongue in cheek lyrics as “You’ve got my panties in a bunch on the floor, you sure do set me free”? Henrik of course lets his ‘Guitar Man’ Gibson Les Paul do the talking, and being Henrik he is very eloquent as he spits out the Rock riffs in response to Layla’s cajoling.
All of which makes the final track even more of a stunner. Coming on the back of this noisy piece of Rock fun the CD’s title track grabs you instantly as the previous Gibson Les Paul sound is replaced by a delicate and echoey jumbo acoustic. Layla’s breathy vocals implore her protagonist to “Sleep little girl, you’re not alone”. Layla Zoe will certainly not be alone where admirers are concerned after this gem of a disc.
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