Belle of the Blues

  • 2013
  • Belle of the Blues
  • Lisa Biales
  • Big Song Music 2013


Reviewed by Steve Daniels.    As appeared in Big City Blues Magazine.

An Ohio native still based in that Midwestern state, Lisa Biales is a reportedly adept acoustic guitarist who on this CD cedes the instrumental duties to a more than competent group of musicians and concentrates on her vocal prowess.  The results are reflective of her eclectic musical background: over the last couple of decades she has variously delved into the folk, bluegrass, jazz, and rock-and-roll genres, with a nod to nebulous "Americana" as well.  Since beginning an alliance  in 2011 with  EG Kight, "the Georgia songbird," she has devoted herself to blues.  (In fact, the two often perform as a duo,  the "Peach Pickin' Mamas.")
Kight's influence is all over this album: in addition to co-production credit with pianist Paul Hornsby, Kight wrote or co-wrote  eight of the eleven songs, and sings harmony on several.  The harmonies are generally delightful; the quality of the songs and the fidelity to the blues genre vary.
The title track, "Belle of the Blues," opens with a promising jaunty tempo and some tasty harmonica stylings by Pat Bergeson (subsequently underutilized, appearing on only one other cut).  "Sad Sad Sunday" follows; it's a slow lament, introduced by Randall Bramblett's fine B3 organ.  (This song, and Bramblett's style, reminds me of the first Boz Scaggs album from way back, with Barry Beckett on organ; that's high praise.)  Next up is "Bad Things," showcasing the dual guitar interplay of Tommy Talton on acoustic and slide and Ken Wynn on electric.  Biales's harmonizing with Kight is exemplary; the only discordance is a superfluous wah-wah pedal guitar filigree.
"Mask," the following song, confirms that we are in for  less than pure blues: Biales's liner notes reveal that she considered it too "dramatic and theatrical" for her previous album, and it does sound like a Broadway show tune.    The ensuing cut, "Graveyard Dead Blues," co-penned by Biales and Kight, represents a foray into down-home blues, but its threatening lyrics are mitigated by a lack of instrumental grit and energy, and a lack of conviction in the vocal.  Rory Block would kill this one; Biales treats it like a ballad.
A similar dearth of propulsion and gumption permeates the remainder of the album.  "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" has the feel of a 2 AM nightclub jazz tune; a Memphis Minnie song, "In My Girlish Days," features Biales and Kight again in fine duet form fronting a tepid arrangement.  Even "Trouble with a Capital 'T'," a would-be rocker, needs to be goosed to get some juice.
Highlights of this album are the contributions of Hornsby on piano and Bramblett on organ.  Talton and Wynn are adept, and provide some excellent solos.  The rhythm section is able but uninspired.  Most problematic are Biales's vocals.  She has a pure voice with a good range but limited power and punch; occasionally she just minimally misses exact pitch and covers it with melisma.   Frankly, I think that her singing is generally pleasant and sometimes excellent, but is more suited to a genre that she apparently hasn't tried yet: country.