Retrospective – Layla Zoe (Layla Zoe Music, recorded in Bremen 27 Nov 2019)

18 Concerts in 6 European countries, performed over 24 days. Layla’ Zoe’s 2019 ‘Retrospective’ Tour was an intense affair time-wise. It was also pretty intense musically, as this live release of the band’s appearance last November in Bremen proves.

I have to admit that following 2018’s ‘Gemini’ studio release and 2015’s ‘Live at Spirit of 66’ Layla Zoe I feared that Layla had left herself nowhere to go. I couldn’t imagine her creating either a better live or a better studio disc than either of these two. They were, and are, amongst the best and vocally intense releases I’ve ever heard. There is something, particularly about ‘Gemini’, that marks it out as a definitive statement – This is all of me, my voice, my heart, my sprit, my take on this at times crazy World so to say. So where DO you go when you’ve given your all?

‘Back’ is the answer. It worked for Star Wars – but will it work for Layla?

In the case of ‘Retrospective’ Layla is going back to a sound pre-Jan Laacks and the rest of her excellent band of recent years and the ‘Galaxy far far away’ that she chooses to make her stand in is Bremen, ‘Meisenfrei’ to be exact. Far far away in that, as she states early on, this is a new venue for her. That’s something that explodes back in her face a little at times, mention of Henrik Freischlader when she introduces her collaboration with him on ‘Never Met a Man Like You’ seems to get a blank response from the audience. She explains how to pronounce her name too – as if introducing herself to the audience for the first time. If you want to really throw a party, who do you invite to make it go with a bang? Old and trusted friends. As far as the live aspect of the disc goes I can’t help thinking there would have been a lot more noise coming back at Layla at Bonn Harmonie or any one of the many venues where she has been a regular and popular guest…

But just maybe the live aspect of this disc isn’t what counts. Very possibly, and also very wisely perhaps, she is not trying to compete with the ‘Spirit of 66’ live offering. In place of Jan Laacks Layla has the guitar services of Krissy Matthews, which is certainly not a step down in playing quality, Matthews is a tried, trusted and popular solo musician in his own right. He does though seem to be very much in check on ‘Retrospective’. There is too, good supporting work from Frank Duindam on drums and Paul Jobson on bass and especially keys, but they only really get a chance to shine on the final track which is, somewhat accurately for them, ‘I Shall Be Released’. I hope I’m not sounding bleak here though Layla fans, because here’s the good news – What I’m truly saying is that this release is really all about onlynone thing – THE VOICE.

I’ve known Layla musically for a few years now, but some of the songs presented here go back further than that. To a time when Layla was getting awards for song-writing, as on ‘Someday’ which won a Canadian songwriting award before Layla established herself here in Europe. In 2019 Layla has been able to step back from her admirable body of songs. There’s no Henrik Freischlader, Thomas Ruf or whoever to put their dime in on the sound created. As Layla famously often says “Let the music take you where you want to go” and that’s the best news about ‘Retrospective’, Layla alone dictates the tempo, the dynamics, and most particularly, the duration of each one of the powerhouse vocal performances on here. Her aim is to go back and pull out the full potential of each song – no matter if it takes 11 minutes as on ‘Never met a man like you’ and ultimately, the 12 minutes and 20 seconds of Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’.

In short, if you love Layla Zoe for her amazing vocals as I do, and didn’t think they could get any better – they just did. Her crunchy delivery on ‘Never Met a Man Like You’ along with some authentic sounding John Lee Hooker style ‘How!, how’, how! hows!’ The kick-ass voice on ‘Backstage Queen’ and particularly the venomous attack of Layla’s lyrics on Gemini’s’ ‘Weakness’ and ‘Ghost Train’ send shivers down the spine. With such a powerhouse of a voice proclaiming “Men can’t help it honey, they’re just weak!” how can any sane man try to argue a case for the defence?

When the last notes from Paul Jobson’s electric organ roll out to signal the end of ‘Retrospective’ I’m thinking once again, where does Layla go from here?

Well, for one thing, Bonn. The second leg of Layla’s ‘Retrospective’ tour will be bringing her to the Harmonie on March 18. With her will be Paul Jobson from the new disc, but there will be a change of rhythm section. On guitar Guy Smeets, who has already won awards as best Dutch Blues musician from the Dutch Blues Foundation in 2019, and drummer Arie Verhaar.

To steal again from Star Wars: The Adventures Continue!’

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