CD: 13 Songs; 43:47 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Blues Covers, Electric Hard Rock
In the movies, haunted houses are never completely dark. As the cover art of the Belgian band Blues Karloff’s latest CD shows, these paranormal places possess the perfect balance of Light and Shade. Eight blues covers on this album attempt to channel the ghosts of legends like Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The other five tracks are originals, on which the band’s guitars wail like banshees. Yours truly thinks it’s no coincidence that the total number of songs is considered unlucky. Even with the volume low, every one of their tunes is all-caps LOUD. Whether they constitute true blues or not is up to listeners to decide. They’ve certainly put a lot of effort and energy into mastering their musical style.
According to their promotional information sheet, “Unapologetically rooted in the British blues rock boom of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, steeped in the tradition of Leslie West’s Mountain, the Jeff Beck Group and early Led Zeppelin, Blues Karloff explores the outer reaches of the sounds that shaped this musical era.” “Outer reaches,” indeed. Light and Shade is 99% electric blues rock or hard rock. One thing this ensemble would do well to remember is that putting the word “blues” in these types of songs does not make them blues songs. Not every band can or should sound like Muddy Waters. Variety is the spice of life. However, all artists should beware of possibly mislabeling their work. Many fans have highly specific ideas of what their favorite genre is.
Blues Karloff consists of lead vocalist Alfie Falckenbach; Paul “Shorty” Van Camp and Thomas Vanhaute on guitar; Franz Ruzica on bass; and Georges Millikan on drums, congas and assorted percussion. Special guests include drummer Ivo “Uncle” Opdebeeck; organist Rudy Pieters; upright bassist Jack O’Roonie; bassist Jeff Brown; and Dominique De Vos on rhythm guitar.
The original song below is mentioned not as an example of genre purity, but of one point made earlier in this review.
Track 06: “I’m a Bluesman” – Co-written by Alfie Falckenbach and J.P. Van Camp, number six is a rip-roaring rocker wearing a blues mask. The growling intro is a promising start, with a traditional rhythm repeated on the guitar refrain. However, it quickly turns into a chaotic competition of style versus volume, old versus new. “I used to be king, drove a big-a$$ car. Now I ride a bike. It ain’t businesslike. I used to fly so very high. Till it all went wrong – now I’ve got to be gone, ‘cause I’m a bluesman.” Perhaps, but that term can be subjective. Different people have different definitions of the word, but there’s no mistaking rock and roll when one hears it.
Their website reveals, “On their debut album Ready For Judgement Day, which was released in October 2014, the band saluted some of the Blues legends that every member of Blues Karloff had been listening to since childhood. The album featured songs by Robert Johnson, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters…”
One will find the same sort of material on Light and Shade, but it’s haunted by too much diluted blues.