December 16, 2019

The whole band manage to tread that razor’s edge between sounding tight and well rehearsed yet still liable to start a bar-room brawl at any moment

You know what? One of the great things about writing about albums on a regular basis like this is being reminded every now and again that you really can’t judge a book, or a CD, by its cover. When I picked this one up, one look at the front cover, with its tranquil image of a bird in flight, wings wrapped around an orange sun, with a floridly designed logo, immediately conjured up Neil Young’s Harvest album, and that sort of rootsy, acoustic based music made to tap one’s finger gently to while the others are wrapped round a glass of something cold. A look at the tracklist, with titles like Arizona, Hometown and Silver Lining made me even more convinced that what we’d have here is a sort of ‘nu-Country’ album, all acoustic guitars and southern fried vocals. Well, ladies and gentleman, I’m here to tell you now I was wrong. Very very wrong, in fact.

As soon as opening track Arizona leaps out of the speakers it becomes abundantly and categorically clear that this is no pleasant acoustically-countrified collection, as the band kick into a louche blues-rock groove before vocalist Meghan Parnell enters the fray with one of the finest bluesy larynxes I’ve encountered for quite some time. Reminiscent very much of the textbook blues-rock stylings of Deborah Bonham, Parnell immediately gives the impression that her vocal cords and a cocktail of beer, whisky and cigarettes are no strangers to each other. She has that slightly raspy tone which you could use to sandpaper your bannisters with while at the same time able to coax out a honeyed phrase or three when the song demands. She’s the band’s finest asset , for sure.

Mind you, she’s not alone, however, as the whole band here manage to tread that razor’s edge between sounding tight and well rehearsed yet still liable to start a bar-room brawl at any moment. There’s even a couple of horn players in there, with trumpet and sax, and it sounds like these guys could be playing in an orchestral horn section, if only they hadn’t been born on the wrong side of the tracks and spent one or two too many nights in jail. It’s a joy to listen to, and it gives you plenty of variation, with the spit-and-sawdust stompers alternating with some actual end-of-the-evening, ‘one more 3am whisky’ torch ballads, including the yearning Hometown and the punchily dramatic Walk On By. The seven-minute slow burner Bring Me Down is as epic as you like, while Over And Over introduces a bit of sassy funk into the soulful blues and rock mix.

Honestly, this is an album that I started listening to out of vague curiosity about how it would actually sound. By the time I was two or three songs in I was hooked and throwing my preconceptions out of the metaphorical window. There may be quite a number of bands these days trying to mine this particular rock-blues-soul furrow, but Bywater Call are one of the best. And they come from Toronto as well, which isn’t exactly your textbook swampy blues homeland. Bywater Call are a band whose mission in life it seems to be to subvert your expectations and make you listen. Come on in – the (By)water’s lovely!