10 tracks/43 minutes
Sunnysiders is a name filled with inherent irony for a blues band.
A self-described “Croatian Blues Attraction”, Sunnysiders hail from Zagreb. They won the Croatian Blues Challenge in 2010. They were semi-finalists at the International Blues Challenge, Memphis 2011 and the European Blues Challenge, Toulouse 2012. This album Click Play is their 3rd. They have opened for Serbian neighbor and major blues star, Ana Popovic; Johnny Winter; and Floridian resonator virtuoso Eric Sardinas.
Hrepa (Boris Hrepić) is the leader on acoustic guitar, vocals and harmonica. Dedication and devotion are the messages here. Ro La (Antonia Vrgoč) has a versatile voice roaming from rock to blues to country as needed. She is the heart of the band and handles lead vocals which are often doubled by buried; echoed or call and response with Hrepa’s whispered growl. Hans (Goran Gubić), electric guitar, helms all the excursions from the darker side of the street with abundant fuzz, overdrive and tasteful leads. Šparka (Igor Paradiš) drops the beat into the tunes as many of these songs start off acoustically. Once unleashed, he can boogie, swing or stomp, without ever getting in the song’s way. They are pros and it shows.
You’d think that a blues band that has the lyric in the first and title track “Chuck Berry please sit down…” would be all boogie or gut bucket but this outfit has very deep rock roots. Hrepa’s lyrics are all twist and turn filled and very clever. His voice attempts a Tom Waits or latter day Leonard Cohen gravitas but comes out more Alabama 3 of The Soprano’s Theme music fame. His acoustic guitar based blues compositions are properly picked and thumped and have the authenticity necessary to get things going. On the 2nd track, “Deep Down”, his lyrics are articulate and his licks crisp. Sung mostly by Ro La who starts off in a soft husky rasp and then she lets her rock star swagger. The song’s arrangement is sparse. “Time is a healer but what can I do? The only cure is you.”
The next tune “Delirium” veers off the blues track into grunge meets mid 80’s arena rock. My favorite track is “Favorite Surprise” a great song. The drums kick it off along with a bright jaunty harp intro, various punctuations and a shanty style solo to go with it. The electric guitar sound is washed in dreamy tremolo which highlights the upbeat vocals. The repeated sing song verse is full of surprises and is really the chorus. When the bridge comes it breaks the happy spell with a descending line reflecting on why the deep blue eyes make all the worries go away. “In Case You Missed It” is so relatable and fun: “I’ll cook and you wash the dishes”. “Nobody Knows” starts with acoustic boogie guitar and then goes into Texas guitar blues, the groove that pays the bills.
The missteps are few but worth mentioning. “Little Wing”, one of just two covers on the album, is reasonably novel and well done but incongruous with the rest of their material. Ro La’s voice is also not very well suited for the extended note held climax but I guess they were trying to add a new wrinkle. Also with the distinctive chord progression for “Help the Poor” by Charles “Hoss” Singleton for B.B. King as it is so embedded in us USA Blues folks that it tends to detract from giving their version a fair shot. They shine brightly on their own compositions and not so much on cover tunes.
The best thing about this Croatian band is that the burden of blues history is not apparent from their songwriting or expression. They are firmly on well-traveled roads but most of this album is fresh sounding and original. They match the story arc of each song with a rock edge. Soft intros into the louder electric guitar then back into the soft ending, classic blues rock blend. This is a seasoned band that knows how to please its audience and grow its fan base. The production is high quality and lacks nothing. If the last song “Hand on My Shoulders” is any indication, they may be best served by sticking to the sprightly played acoustic-based spirituals while adding touches of electric guitar and drums just enough to bolster the deep sentiments.
“Thank you for the music in my soul…Thank you there is so many things to thank you for and when I’ll say no more. Thank you, Lord.”