Jimi Hendrix is tied to the blues because of how much he drew from it. He often covered classic blues songs live and wrote his own modern blues classics, like “Red House” and “Hear My Train A Comin’.” But for Hendrix, the blues was just one possible departure point. He pretty much integrated everything he heard into his music. Hence, the Bob Dylan cover (“All Along the Watchtower”) and the snippet of Pachelbel’s Canon in “Bold as Love.” For Hendrix, the blues was an important ingredient in his sound, but hardly the only one. Which is what makes singer/guitarist Stef Paglia’s solo debut, Never Forget, so interesting. Paglia borrows a lot from the Hendrix sound, rather than digging back to the original blues source material.
Belgian Paglia comes from The BluesBones, a five-piece band, and here, working solo, he’s in a power trio format, just like Hendrix. However, in addition to Hendrix, there’s also a strong Red Hot Chili Peppers sound, which makes sense since that band also took a lot from him. Together, it gives Never Forget a funky vibe that dips a toe into blues, but for the most part stays true to more of a funk-rock sound.
In fact, the track “Take Me Away” sounds a lot like “Funky Monks” from the Chili Peppers’ 1991 smash hit album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Paglia has a smoother voice than Anthony Kiedis, although he does have similar moments of rapping/singing, but on a much more melodic level. Paglia also doesn’t shy away from his Hendrix love, covering “Freedom.” Paglia’s cover doesn’t detour too far from Hendrix’s, but has more shape and structure than any of the Hendrix versions, which tended to be more freeflowing, to the point of feeling like liquid.
The album’s best moments are when Paglia gets away from the funk-rock and moves into more straight-ahead blues rock. “Crush On You” is one of the album’s strongest cuts, with a cool slide riff that gives the tune a decidedly Black Keys groove. Paglia’s vocals are also a little more raw, which gives the song lots of swagger. “The Unknown” is a bouncy blues, a la Stevie Ray Vaughan, with Paglia’s voice once again in top form, although it also features one of the album’s best guitar solos. And “Warmth Instead of Cold” is a rock ballad with a beautiful blues solo.
The album’s best three songs are the final three. I’m not sure if that’s a coincidence, a reflection of the songwriting order, or Paglia’s sense of song quality. But he is at his best when he’s working in rock and blues. While his Hendrix, funk-inspired work is fine, it’s ground that’s been well-tread by too many. It also might also be nice to hear Paglia’s band (drummer Joel Purkess and bassist Geert Schurmans) cut loose a little more. Part of what made Hendrix so compelling was the interplay between him and his rhythm section. Hopefully Paglia will pick up more of the straight-up rock and roll thread on his next album.
The Review: 7/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– The Unknown
– Warmth Instead of Cold
– Dirty Woman
– Crush On You
The Big Hit
– Crush On You
Review by Steven Ovadia