Albums are like little ecosystems; one seemingly small change can completely alter the environment. That unpredictability is what makes an album exciting. The wild chemistry between Neals and guitarist Joe Louis Walker is what makes her Black Crow Moan such a thriving, thrilling biosphere of an album.
Neals is a blues singer with a classic blues voice, think Janis Joplin crossed with Alannah Myles. Walker is a blues singer and guitarist who’s played with just about everyone in blues and rock. He’s all about tone, but he’s more than capable of dazzle, and he balances Neals out well on the two tracks they share.
Walker joins Neals on “The Devil Don’t Love You,” a soulful track with a wonderfully funky, chicken scratch of a guitar rhythm. As good as the rhythm is, the real treat is Walker’s solo, which at times sounds like air horn blasts. It’s a cool effect that takes the song to another level. The tune, which Walker also produced, is mid-tempo, a good speed for Neals, allowing her vocals to growl without the song feeling like it might propel itself off the rails. Walker also joins Neals for “Black Crow Moan,” a slow blues of a duet. His restrained—for the most part—playing and bluesy vocals work perfectly with Neals here, too, keeping the track in a charming balance. Guitarist Derek St. Holmes, best known for his work with Ted Nugent, also joins Neals for two other slow blues tunes, both very good but not as captivating as the title track.
As amazing as the two Walker tracks are, Neals also has some solid solo tunes. The ballads in particular are very strong. “Watch Me Fly” is an 80s power ballad, with just a tiny bit less bombast. As someone who grew up loving that kind of song, it’s great to hear again. It’s also worth noting that while power ballads work on their own, they’re also useful in the sequencing of an album, taking the energy down without letting things get overly chill. “Run Sugar Run” is surprisingly poppy, with a go-go beat and Neals adapting a fun, almost carefree tone. The guitars, courtesy of Mike Puwal, have a good coat of distortion, though, keeping the song heavy.
Neals is a talented singer but she’s at her best when she’s held back just a bit, either by her collaborators or song type. Walker is a perfect foil in that they have similar energies, but arrive at them in different ways. Neals hits every track hard, starting at full-speed and only upping her intensity. Walker, however, slowly unfurls, beginning seemingly low-key and gradually tightening his focus until you suddenly realize you’re hearing licks you’ve never heard before. As good as the two are together, Neals is just fine on her own, especially on the slower, poppier tracks. But the Walker collaborations make this album a truly special climate.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Black Crow Moan
– Watch Me Fly
– Run Sugar Run
– The Devil Don’t Love You
The Big Hit
– The Devil Don’t Love You
Review by Steven Ovadia