Eliza Neals – Black Crow Moan
10 songs – 45 minutes
Eliza Neals packs a potent punch. A multi-instrumentalist who concentrates on keys here, she roars like a hurricane with an operatically trained voice that’s mellifluous, but has a rough-cut urban edge – something that comes through loud and clear on this long-awaited follow-up to her most recent full-length release, 2017’s well-received 10,000 Feet Below.
A blond powerhouse whose delivery can go from sugar sweet to menacing in a heartbeat, Neals usually delivers a healthy mix of electric blues, psychedelic rock, Southern soul and more when fronting her regular band, The Narcotics. A perennial honoree in the Detroit Music Awards and songwriter, her releases consistently score the charts.
The Detroit native tempers her usual balls-to-the-wall delivery on this collection of nine originals and one cover aided by a diverse lineup that includes both Joe Louis Walker and Motor City heavyweight Howard Glazer on guitars and an extensive roster of top talent from Michigan and New England.
Rounding out the lineup are Mike Puwal and Derek St. James (best known for his work with Ted Nugent) on guitar, Bruce Bears (Duke Robillard Band) and Jim Alfredson on keys, Chuck Bartels, Jason Kott and Lenny Bradford on bass, Jeffrey “Shakey” Fowlkes, Demarcus Sumter, Brian Clune, John Medeiros Jr. and Skeeto Valdez on percussion and Valerie Taylor and Kymberli Wright on backing vocals.
The album opens with “Don’t Judge the Blues,” an uptempo foot-stomper with a Hill Country attack. The repetitive slide guitar hook and accompanying handclaps will definitely get you out of your chair and onto the dance floor. At only 2 minutes 35 seconds, however, it ends abruptly and gives way to the slow blues, “Why You Ooglin Me,” a syrupy, but wall-of-sound ballad that finds Eliza simultaneously disturbed and attracted to the man giving her the eye.
Walker joins the action for the first time, doubling Neals’ vocal for the chorus that opens the funky “The Devil Don’t Love You,” before laying down a steady stream of chicken-scratch licks as he yields to Eliza for the verses. This one will take you to church as it urges the listener to get down on his knees to pray. Things calm down dramatically for “Watch Me Fly,” a powerful ballad with an inspirational message and ‘80s pop appeal.
Eliza’s voice is the star for “River Is Rising,” a blues-rocker aided by Glazer that flows gently before slowly picking up strength as the singer warns a lady friend about the trouble brewing in her mind. The mood brightens considerably for “Run Sugar Run,” a keyboard-propelled rocker with a go-go beat.
Walker returns for the title tune, “Black Crow Moan.” It’s a haunting, slow-blues duet that describes the torment of a young woman who’s the daughter of a mother who always tried to save her and father who always blamed her. As Joe Louis’ fretwork sear with her pain, she still remains optimistic about the future.
St. James sits in on the next two tunes — “Never Stray,” a quiet ballad that urges a lover to be her one-and-only man, and a cover of Big Mama Thornton’s familiar “Ball and Chain” – before Neals’ is at her appealing best for the stop-time rocker, “Hey, Take Your Pants Off,” to bring the album to a close.
Available from Amazon, Apple Music and other sites, Black Crow Moan is at her best on this one. If you’re a fan of modern blues-rock, this one’s definitely for you.