Lindsay Beaver – Tough as Love
2018, Alligator Records
12 songs, 38 minutes
Born to a working-class family Halifax, the provincial capital of Nova Scotia, Lindsay Beaver was bitten by the music bug at an early age. Her parents’ love of soul music was her entry as an 11-year-old, and soon her interests expanded to include hip hop, blues and jazz, and Jimi Hendrix, which inspired her to take up the guitar. By the age of 17, she had discovered Billie Holiday, which prompted her to begin voice training as a classical soprano. “Her voice had more soul and emotional depth than any singer I had ever heard,” said Beaver, adding “Billie led me to lots of other jazz, and jazz led me to blues.”
By the age of 19, Beaver decided that being a musician was to be her destiny, and formed her own band. Unable to find either a singer or a drummer she liked spurred her to do undertake both duties herself. She went on to study jazz drumming in Toronto, and eventually started the 24th Street Wailers, going on to produce 5 albums under that name, self-producing three of them. In 2011, their first full-length release, Dirty Little Young’uns, gave them entré to better gigs and festival stages, numerous awards, and recognition far beyond their home base. I first heard of them a couple years back, when my friend Dennis Gruenling played them on the weekly radio show he was hosting on WFDU. This was raucous, up-tempo, good-time music, and I was immediately hooked!
At the urging of Jimmie Vaughan, who’d heard her leading the 24th Street Wailers, Beaver recently relocated to Austin, TX, recording Tough As Love, her first release under her own name. It features 12 songs, 7 of which were penned by Beaver. Working with a stellar new band consisting of Beaver on drums and vocals, the wonderful Brad Stivers on guitar, and Josh Williams on bass, the trio is augmented by some outstanding musicians, including harp master Dennis Gruenling, Marcia Ball and Matt Farrell on piano, “Sax” Gordon Beadle on sax, along with Red Casey, Eve Monsees, and Laura Chavez on guitar. It was produced by Beaver, along with Alligator Records’ Bruce Iglauer, and Stuart Sullivan.
Tough as Love combines up-tempo blues, old-school R&B, rockabilly, and soul to deliver Beaver’s unique musical signature, and if this collection of songs isn’t autobiographical, they sure as hell should be! Her voice is clear and powerful, and her stand-up style of drumming is spare and immediate, with a particular emphasis on her snare and a ride cymbal.
The Opening track, “You’re Evil,” one of Beaver’s original tunes, features the always-outstanding Dennis Gruenling on the harmonica intro. It’s a solid, propulsive minor shuffle that tells the tale of a relationship that’s gone sour. Beaver’s vocals are solid and strong, as she nearly shouts at a former lover, “You’re evil… and you almost broke me.” Then, Stivers lets loose with a frenzied, reverb-soaked solo that completely mirrors the rage in Beaver’s voice. It’s powerful opener, to be sure.
“Too Cold To Cry,” another original, has a 50’s New Orleans feel to it. Marcia Ball’s barrelhouse piano and Stivers’ stinging solo belie the message set out from the opening line: “Our lovin’ is so many lies…”
“What a Fool You’ve Been” is a jumpin’ rocker, with a 50s New Orleans feel to it and with some tasty double-stops from Stivers and a rousing solo from Sax Gordon.
“You Hurt Me” is Beaver’s take on Little Willie John’s 1961 recording, and features one of her strongest vocal performances, along with some more stinging guitar work from Stivers.
“Don’t Be Afraid of Love” is a balls-out rocker that features a wonderful vocal duet between Beaver and Stivers, with Stivers “trading 8s” with Marcia Ball’s adrenaline-fueled barrelhouse piano. I think this is my favorite cut on the album!
“I Got Love If You Want It” – This has to be my all-time favorite version of this Slim Harpo (aka James More) classic, with a killer solo by Gruenling.
“Dangerous” is a mid-tempo shuffle that features a powerhouse vocal from Beaver, along with some tasty guitar solos by both Stivers and Red Casey.
Other highlight tracks include “Oh Yeah,” another straight-ahead rocker that features Stivers trading tasty licks with Eve Monsees.
“Lost Cause,” originally done by Angela Strehli, is a haunting minor blues in which Beaver warns a potential suitor to stay away, because her heart is “a lost cause.” Matt Farrell handles piano duties on this one.
“Mean to Me” is an up-tempo swing number that features a blistering solo by Laura Chavez, trading licks with Stivers. The interplay between these two great players is exhilarating!
All in all, “Tough as Love” is a great album for those who like their blues with a nod toward early rock ‘n’ roll and old-school R&B. The song selection is great, the performances uniformly terrific, and the production “just right.” The guest artists mesh perfectly with the band, and the more I listen to this album, the more I like it. Great song choices, great playing, and great production. Beaver is rock solid as a vocalist, drummer, and bandleader, creating a rock-solid groove and giving her musicians plenty of space to showcase their individual talents.
As with all of the artists I review, I encourage you to search them out on YouTube to check out their live performances, for some additional perspective. Check out Beaver’s work with her previous band, the 24th Street Wailers, as well as videos under her own name. Hopefully, she’ll be heading to my neck of the woods soon, so I can catch her “live and in person.” That’d be a show I wouldn’t want to miss!