“I always say at my shows that they’ll have their hearts ripped out – and put back in again” Layla Zoe , the self confessed ‘Firegirl’ has certainly been through the flames this last year. She came out with the hottest disc of her career to date though and in Henrik Freischlader has found the perfect musical foil for her powerful voice and from the heart lyrics. Rather like Iago in Shakespeare’s tragic ‘Othello’, Zoe wears her heart on her sleeve “For daws to peck at” on ‘The Lily’, but feisty girl that she is, survives to tell the tale.
First a short introduction: Henrik Freischlader formed his own Company ‘Cable Car Records’ to ‘Keep music in the family’ he recently revealed. “Not do music for money or business…big companies force you always to Have new ideas, not always good ones”. This environment where excellent young talent has time to develop is turning out to be a perfect one for Canadas ‘Darling of the Blues’ Layla Zoe. Her last release ‘Sleep Little Girl’ was a solid Blues vocal disc that developed Zoe’s sound without radically redefining it and the new release ‘The Lily’ is also a step up – albeit a much bigger one than previously.
The disc starts solidly with numbers that could have come from the previous one. ‘Glory, Glory’ is the most basic of Gospel songs and you will need to have seen Layla live to appreciate it’s power because a great many ‘average’ singers could do this one with the help ,of a ‘polish up’ by the producer but this is just Layla and a microphone – raw, powerful and emotional. Could Layla deliver this during a powercut? My money’s on the girl from Canada!
The tracks that follow all have a lot more instruments but conversely not a lot more musicians. Bass, drums and naturally guitars are all courtesy of Mr Freischlader and it’s only Freischlader’s keyboardman Moritz Fuhrhop whose Hammond flourishes prevent this being literally a one man band.
There’s no denying that a better guitarman would be hard to find though. I personally don’t think there is a better one in Germany for electric blues. He’s a solid enough bass player too. He actually started out playing drums (had a father who also did so) and is rock solid behind the bass drum. Maybe too rock solid for my liking – there’s a John Bonham attack that I sometimes wish would leave a little more space because when you have a vocalist as powerful and assured as Layla Zoe you really have all the fireworks you need to set any song alight.
It’s been a tough past year for the girl. Vocal chord problems are the nightmare of any singer and back pains made the future look a lot less than bright. Layla’s misfortunes are our own good fortunes though as much of this excellent disc is the result of her facing pain and celebrating life without it. The lyrics were good on ‘Sleep Little Girl’ but seem just that bit deeper dug from the well this time around. “Life is too short to waste what’s here” she declares in ‘Green Eyed Lover’ and life ‘In Her Mother’s House’ is simply “a ball”.
Where the up-tempo numbers are a step up from the previous release though the slower ones are a quantum leap forward and If this disc contained just two tracks it would still be worth every penny/cent: Fact – Henrik is an excellent Rock guitar player and Layla is an excellent Rock vocalist but Henrik is a master craftsman when it comes to spine tingling slow electric blues and Layla has about the best Gospel Blues vocal chords on planet Earth. Put the two together and you have Magic.
There are undeniable echoes of Gary Moore’s ‘The Messiah Will Come Again’ in the haunting intro to ‘Father’ and the combination of smouldering guitar with Layla’s perfectly pitched vocal is a masterclass in song dynamics. Every word from Layla and every note from Henrik seems weighted to perfection. Two superb musicians doing exactly what they do best. It can’t be bettered…
Only it is bettered, on the very next track in fact. Possibly the best thing either Henrik or Layla has ever done – ‘The Lily’ really is a classic. It takes the drama of ‘Father’ and twists the knife still deeper with a hookline to die for courtesy of Mr Freischlader. “I always say that at my shows, when the audience comes out to see me, they’ll have their hearts ripped out and put back in again” she confides. If this track doesn’t do it then Jack you are most definitely dead. Did I say Layla dug deep in the well for her lyrics? It doesn’t get deeper than singing about ones own mortality: “Angels will sing, dance and play, to the blues on my funeral day”
‘I Choose You’ is a feisty ballad to follow, but really and truly ‘The Lily’ can’t be followed. ‘They Lie’ returns to a theme visited in ‘Black Oil’ on the previous disc and despite it’s dark content dealing with those who control not just the oil but the People too, it seems almost light after the earlier tracks. A spirited rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Hey, Hey, My, My’ with it’s upbeat message that Rock n Roll will never die is a credible effort to put our ripped out hearts back in again, but really and truly Freischlader’s guitar and Zoe’s voice are the sharpest instruments you are likely to hear this year.