Astrid Barth’s Band Get the Cat first came to my attention playing at a tiny pub in Bonn. There was no stage to play on, and they couldn’t ‘come back’ for an encore because there was no backstage to return from. Circumstances meant the set was purely acoustic so I came away with the impression Barth was more of a jazz singer.
The latest CD She Knows Them All however sits firmly in a rootsier category, due very much to Barth’s fellow ‘Cats’ drummer Ralph Schläger, bassist Till Brandt and especially guitarist Philipp Roemer (who, curiously, studied Jazz). The sum total of whom is a solid Blues Rock sound.
The CD was recorded in Hansahaus Studios in Bonn and it’s a brave disc in many ways. The very first track, ‘Sweet Home Cologne’ isn’t a German take of Lynyrd Skynyrds ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, it’s Barth singing the praises of her hometown of Cologne. Not unusual in itself – there’s a whole genre of ‘Kölsch Rock’ out there especially come Carnival time. The brave bit is that Barth sings in English about how much happier she is in Cologne than she would be in Los Angeles. I suspect Germans will like the sentiment but not the English lyrics, whilst Americans will like the music but not the sentiments. It’s a good time rock riff with an undoubted feel good factor though and gets toes tapping from the off. The same is true of track two ‘Two Steps Forward’. Up beat musically and spiritually. After that we journey into darker corners of the City and the Soul though. ‘Ghost Town’ with its tale of Urban decay and then ‘Your last shirt (won’t have a pocket)’ whose reminder of mortality is dark and yet my favourite track of the disc. Barth seemingly holds no fears of sounding too morbid. Brave lyrics describing Death as the great class leveller, or as the poet Roger McGough describes it, “Look at the cemetry, no streaming there”. It’s a dark theme for sure and not one for the faint hearted to tackle. But it’s a highlight of the CD.
‘A Man for Saturday Night’ comes as welcome light relief, with it’s Batman style intro and tongue in cheek lyrics. Astrid has “A man to clean the kitchen, to make the bed, and bake the bread” but is missing “A man for Saturday night”. It points up one of the albums best strengths –a quirky tune with well thought out lyrics. That would be no mean feat for an English songwriter – for someone writing in a foreign language though I most definitely take my hat off to Till Brandt who I believe wrote everything. Respect. More great lyrics on ‘I’m Good’ with Astrid proclaiming “I’m good six days a week, but I get bad on a Saturday Night” there’s a nice shuffle beat too. The funky ‘Enough is Enough’ with it’s swirling Hammond, scat singing and guitar/organ duel rolls along nicely. ‘Broad Shoulders’ is the discs ‘Big Ballad’ “Things ain’t easy, strings get out of tune” as Barth sings.
If I have a criticism it’s the squeaky clean production. Blues Rock should have rough edges. And everything here seems to have been worked on, worked out and polished up. That’s a minor grumble though. Overall there’s a lot to enjoy. Thoughtful lyrics, nice guitar licks by Roemer, swirling B3 Hammond (from Englishman Noel Stevens) and a solid backbeat courtesy of Schläger and Brandt with Barth herself in splendid form lyrically and vocally. She comes from a Rock Music background and describes on her website how she was asked to step in as vocalist for the band that became Get the Cat (Dog Party Blues Band) and immediately found herself thinking “Blues? Isn’t that music that you get bored hearing after the third song?” Thanks to her Rock past, and jazz style vocal, Blues from these Cats is certainly more than three chords and out.
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