Nico Chona & The Freshtones
Electric George Records
11 songs – 51 minutes
Based out of Lyon, France, Nico Chona & The Freshtones are a hard-driving, hard-to-classify four-piece ensemble who make their recording debut on this album, which liberally mixes blues, rock and American roots throughout and frequently shifts gears within songs.
They’re fronted by lead guitarist/lead singer Nico Chona, who began writing tunes at age 14 in the late 2000s, primarily influenced by sounds emanating from the U.S. and U.K. in the ‘60s and ‘70s – Muddy Waters, early ZZ Top, Cream and Crosby Stills Nash & Young among them.
He’s backed by a trio of childhood friends: bassist Dan Nambotin, guitarist Joris Perrin and drummer Nicholas Gamet, all of whom provide backing harmonies as they deliver an energetic brand of music packed with occasion surprises when they shift between stylings.
This CD was recorded live to a 24-track tape recorder at Magneto Studios in Lyon and consists of ten originals and one cover, all delivered in English with little or no accent from the band’s homeland, where they’ve been playing some of the larger music festivals.
The opener, “Wheels of Obsession,” begins with the roar of an engine before the group launches into a driving boogie, then slows and drops volume dramatically to make way for lyrics that promise to take a companion to somewhere in the south where no one’s waiting before shifting gears and picking up speed once more. Chona’s vocals are somewhat lost in the mix, but are pleasant, and the rhythm section is tight.
The sound shifts quietly to the Delta for the opening and slowly picks up speed and intensity before erupting once again in “Run,” continuing the travel theme and describing an encounter with a black cat late at night. Nico’s guitar blazes in full blues-rock fury to carry the song home. The boogie comes with stop-time feel in the uptempo “Screen Boy,” an invitation to another person to “drop the digital world” and join the band on its ride.
“Again and Again” opens with the sound of shifting through an assortment of radio stations before the band launches into a semi-acoustic ballad that’s much lighter than what’s come before. It echoes ‘60s folk-rock with minor psychedelic overtones as it describes an encounter with someone who’s been watching the singer intently for a long time. The feel continues in another ballad, “The Heat,” which features pleasant choral work on the chorus before returning to the blues-rock root to end.
The hard-charging “Black Sky Man” starts slowly with more sounds of an engine experiencing difficulties before firing. It’s another boogie with an inventive rhythm pattern, but yields to more sounds of the Delta in the haunting “Hello,” another solicitation to walk and talk in the early morning.
The ‘60s are back in style for “The Winning Wind,” which is breezy at first before building intensity. A cover of Hambone Willie Newbern’s 1929 Okeh Records classic “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” gets a supercharged redo before “Goldtop Sunday Blues” reflects on a lady who’s a delight on the weekend, but a devil when Monday comes. The disc closes with “Catalin Crest,” a sweet ballad that picks up steam slowly as it recounts good times laying in the sun next to a lady love.
Available through iTunes and several other outlets, Nico Chona & The Freshtones strike a positive chord. If you’re looking for something definitely different, this one could be right for you.