While Blues Pills are based in Sweden, they’re an international group with American bassist and songwriter Zach Anderson originally serving time in Radio Moscow, and former teen prodigy guitarist Dorian Sorriaux is French. Their musical inspirations are just as diverse as their nationalities. While their debut album from 2014 comfortably fit them with fellow Swedish hard psych rockers Graveyard, Witchcraft, Truckfighters and Spiders, Lady In Gold expands their reach from Blue Cheer and Big Brother & the Holding Company fusion of fuzz and blues rock into psychedelic soul. It’s not really that surprising or jarring of a progression, except for those who might have expected them to go more in the direction of psych noir and prog like Blood Ceremony, Purson and Jess And The Ancient Ones. Partly because that territory is more than capably covered by others, and more because Elin Larsson and company’s passions are more rooted in American influences, this evolution feels completely natural.
While some fans might crave more heavy, and I wouldn’t mind at least one extended psych prog freakout odyssey, I can find that elsewhere. Blues Pills prefer to channel their immense musical talent into more focused songs and a slightly more mainstream friendly production. Some moments might even bring to mind Adele, because both Adele and Larsson worship at the feet of the formidable Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. If Blues Pills could attract even a fraction of Adele’s audience, everyone would win, because this album is pretty great from beginning to end. While Curtis Mayfield, Norman Whitfield’s early 70s productions of The Temptations and Tina Turner are infused in the grooves, there’s no mistaking that this is Blues Pills, with a pretty consistently brooding emphasis on minor keys, like on “Burned Out” and “Gone So Long.” Their closest contemporaries are Graveyard, who also explored Muscle Shoals/Stax soul to some extent on their last album. However, Blues Pills have expanded their sound literally with the addition of the four-part Voodoo Choir, and additional musicians contributing organ, piano, mellotron and xylophone. After a half dozen listens, the impressive vocal arrangements on the title track, about a female embodiment/reaper of death and “Little Boy Preacher” come to the foreground.
“I Felt A Change” is a nearly acapella ballad with just an organ. Larsson’s performance is impressive — she’s clearly been developing her craft the past four years and is in peak form. “Bad Talkers” is the kind of hard-driving funky choogler that a lot of bands seem obliged to attempt (Rival Sons, White Denim) but doesn’t do much for me. But it’s well done enough that it could easily be a favorite for others. “You Gotta Try” is better and more dynamic, building up to the rave-up, while “Won’t Go Back” ups the ante with Larsson and band operating at peak energy level. “Rejection” seems to reprise much of what went down before, instrumental build-ups, choir, organ. It’s solid, but at this point it would have been nice to see the band take another risk.
The album concludes with a cover of Nashville swamp rocker Tony Joe White’s “Elements And Things,” which has been a live staple lately. It’s a great noirish road song, but feels more like a segue than a conclusion. I’m ready for the monumental epic track. Perhaps the key to Blues Pills’ continued staying power is that they never overstay their welcome, and always leave the audience wanting more. I know I want to see them live. How about a North American tour with Troubled Horse?