Brave Rival are a new quintet hailing from Portsmouth who were recently nominated for “Best Emerging Blues Artist Of The Year” at the UK Blues Awards 2022. I’m guessing they’ve been together since 2019, and they’re so much more than “just Blues” (my parentheses), playing a wide-ranging mix of bluesy, soulful yet full-on classic rock that will appeal to music fans across the genres. Life’s Machine is their very impressive debut album, released on 6th May hot on the heels of their second single ‘Heart Attack’.
The band is fortunate in having a hypnotic duo vying for lead and twin vocals in Lindsey Bonnick and Chloe Josephine. Donna Peters plays drums, Billy Dedman plays bass, and Ed Clarke plays guitars. They’ve also brought in some incredible extra musicians to bring their songs to life. Firstly Jonny Henderson on Hammond organ and keyboards; Ian Shepherd on piano; and then six beautiful soul and gospel singers from the Portsmouth blues and soul scene who together with Lindsey and Chloe became The Bravian Choir!
The result is a wonderfully varied song-set of twelve tracks that recalls Heart in their pomp; Girlschool; more than a hint of Pat Benatar; and two excellent, more contemporary Dutch bands – Lesoir and one of my favs, The Dame. To tie things together the band enlisted the talents of record producer and engineer Tarrant Shepherd, and award-winning multi-platinum producer and engineer Clint Murphy.
Originally scheduled for a spring 2020 recording session, as with so many others Life’s Machine was put on hold due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, a situation which stung all the harder for Brave Rival as the first lockdown occurred mere weeks after a successful Kickstarter campaign raised the funding to record.
Like so many others, the band didn’t want to “just give up and hide away” (says co-lead vocalist Chloe Josephine), they were desperate to keep working from home and composing songs via zoom meetings – and this new album has benefitted from their rigorous shortlisting process as a result.
With all the elements recorded and mixed, the band were delighted to be able to use Katie Tavini (Ash, We Are Scientists, Nahli) for the mastering process. In a male dominated industry, Brave Rival are keen to promote female empowerment, and Katie has applied the perfect finishing touches.
The set kicks off in classic rambunctious Pat Benatar style with the latest single Heart Attack, it’s full-on bar-room blues rock with a nice fat sound, stonking riff, shimmering Hammond, great twin vocals, what’s not to like! Guilty Love is again very reminiscent of those 80’s mid-Atlantic rock classics. More strong singing, more choppy, meaty guitarwork and more drenching of The Hammond – nuff said! Without You drops the pace in a soulful, sentimental, blues-washed intro before an anthemic chorus rolls in with beautiful harmonies, driving rhythms and a very classy solo towards the end. It’s another quality song, and the opening trio of numbers certainly raises the curtain on a thoroughly engaging new band.
Run and Hide takes us back up to Heart / Benatar levels of excitement and energy, catchy as hell with a stellar solo punctuating the duelling vocal harmonies. These guys are right up there in that aforementioned company! Come Down is a slow blues-rock track, apparently written in the bath after a gig and describing the inevitable post-show blues. There’s a lovely, poignant blues solo, and at this point I must say what a genuinely multi-talented find on guitar is Ed! Together with a massively powerful engine-room performance from Donna and Billy, soaring lead vocals from Chloe, and a big slab of the Bravian Choir – this is a slow-building definitive monster of a blues-rock track!
Q: After the heights of Come Down, how to cope with following it…A: more of the same with added slide guitar! What’s Your Name Again? has a downright dirty chugging slide-led riff that the singers can’t help but howl to! Great slide solo, punishing percussion, this simply has to be played loud, Bet you didn’t know the Blues were born in Portsmouth!
Secrets follows, tightly wrapped in an 80’s style and production – eat your Heart out, Annie! Another satisfyingly meaty rock anthem. Long Time Coming follows, a wonderfully crisp, intimate sound-mix that sounds timeless and immediately familiar. A classic blues-rock ballad that starts slow, a tasty bit of guitar in the background before building to a crescendo from Lindsey on lead vocals and the Bravian Choir giving it their all – breathtaking! Thin Ice features a really taut percussion and bassline, a catchy, choppy guitar sound, twin vocals on fire again, a searing solo, all the ingredients of another stadium rocker – I bet these guys are amazing live! Fool of You is funky soul with a touch of rock; a wonderful looping bassline, it’s pure gospel at times a la Aretha Franklin. It goes without saying that the vocals are just top class.
The last two tracks Break Me and Life’s Machine are longer, allowing the band to expand, fully work out and confirm the extent of their talents – Break Me is another classic slow-building blues-rocker, such strong vocals, taken to another level by the gospel choir and featuring one of the best blues solos you’ll hear – it’s a real all-round monster! And then finally we have the album’s title track, Life’s Machine. Written during the Covid-19 global pandemic, it’s a heart wrenching, spine tingling and goose-bump inducing rock ballad summing up how it feels to lose someone you love during such a gruelling time. One of two songs to feature a grand piano on the album, it takes the listener on an elegaic journey through delicate verses and mournful choruses all building to an epic crescendo. The song ends with the sounds of ghost-like spirits with the cycle of life complete….
Seriously, this is such a complete piece of work, by such a strong set of musicians backed by a peerless production team, the end result being remarkable for its maturity, depth, sumptuousness and sheer quality. Buy it as soon as!