Eliza Neals: Colorcrimes Review

Critically acclaimed Detroit Blues Rock queen Eliza Neals delivers a wonderful retro blues rock R&B album with Colorcrimes, her 12th release and seventh on her label E-H Records. Neals has been collecting nominations and awards in the Detroit music scene since 2012’s Messin With a Fool was nominated for “Outstanding BLUES Recording 2013″ at the Detroit Music Awards. That was her fifth album and second self-released album. Her debut album I Want More was released in 1997.

A Detroit native, Neals’ story has a familiar theme, growing up following classic, late 60s rock and 70s soul artists like Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, and Aretha Franklin. Add an early introduction to instrumentation with Eliza playing piano with her sisters to those songs on the radio and you have fertile ground to cultivate an artist. These influences clearly surface on Colorcrimes. However, Eliza’s story has a twist. Many can relate to the “you have to get a degree to live under this roof” mantra as we approached the end of high school. Eliza’s household subscribed to this approach. So, it was off to Detroit’s Wayne State University (WSU) where she would pursue opera studies and piano. Eliza would graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a minor in piano. Neals would find herself as an opera singer with the WSU concert chorale touring throughout Europe.

Her love of the music she grew up with would bring her back to the Motor City. Neals would hit the local scene applying her vocal and piano skills to her passion for soulful blues rock. She crossed paths with Detroit legend Grammy award winning Barrett Strong Jr.  Strong would take her under his wing and sign her to his label Barrett Records. It was on this label that I Want More was released.

Strong Jr. (now deceased) would leave his mark on Colorcrimes as well, co-writing three of the tracks. He would not be alone in contributing to this project. Far from it. Track list credits on Colorcrimes resembles a K-Tel record with the likes of King Solomon Hicks, Brian Lord (Mitch Ryder), Paul Randolph (Alice Cooper), Jason Kott (Robert Randolph), Kamall Malak (Arrested Development), Jeffery “Shakey” Fowlkes (Too Slim), Justin Headley (Damon Fowler), Tim Grogan (Desert Rose), Mark “Muggy Do” Leach (Buddy Miles), Luis Resto (Eminem), Peter Keys (Lynyrd Skynyrd), John Galvin (Molly Hatchet), Kymberli Wright (Straight Ahead) and many others collaborating on various tracks.  The one almost constant aside from Neals herself would be longtime collaborator and slide master Michael Puwal who appears on all but two of the songs.

With all this artistry the album unexpectedly opens with “Heal This Land” a stripped-down acoustic with just Neals and Puwal on this catchy motivational hand clapping tune. “Banned in Jackson” is a humorous upbeat song about getting called out for being yourself. There’s likely a good story behind this one! The title track is also the driving force behind this album. As mentioned in the release notes;

Colorcrimes was born on-stage to help people soothe their souls in this troubled world. The audience’s tearful reaction convinced Neals to record “Colorcrimes.”

It is a soulful stirring piece featuring Neals’ smoky opera trained vocals that touches on our social struggles with racial perceptions. ‘Don’t make the color a crime.’ The mood lightens and the pace picks up with the next three tracks. “Something’s Better Than Nothing” speaks to being grateful for the things we have in an Aretha Franklin fashion. “Love Doctor Love” is a fun funky tune highlighting Resto and Haynes on horns about being spellbound by a man. “Sugar Daddy” turns the tables with a tale of a fellow who can’t leave even if he wanted to. “Candy Store” is another fun tale of someone who has nothing to offer featuring a nice organ solo by John Galvin. “Found Me Another” is a tune about what the title makes self-explanatory delivered with a classic rock flavor. The album closes with a theme song for weekend warriors who put real world troubles aside to make the most of their “Friday Night (All Day Long)” and make it last…. you guessed it.

While “Heal This Land” and “Colorcrimes” carry serious thoughtful messages, the album overall is a joy to listen to. Neals’ vocals and piano along with Puwal’s guitar and slide work, flow throughout the album and despite the plethora of contributing artists, no song feels out of place. My only complaint is the relatively short play time with five of the nine tracks coming in under three and half minutes. Call me selfish. I wanted more. This is a really good album!

The Review: 8/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Colorcrimes
– Heal This Land
– Love Dr. Love
– Found Me Another

The Big Hit

– Colorcrimes

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