Layla Zoe – Gemini | Album Review

Layla Zoe – Gemini

Self-produced CD

20 songs – 94 minutes

Based out of Vancouver, B.C., full-throated vocalist, songsmith and harmonica player Layla Zoe takes listeners on a roller-coaster ride of emotions with this stunning two-CD set, proving once again that she’s a force to be reckoned with on the international blues scene.

Since making her debut with the album You Will in 2005, she’s been piling up honors. Both the Maple Blues Awards in Canada and the European Music Awards have honored her as their female vocalist of the year, while Polish blues fans have tabbed her as their Discovery Of The Year.

Her songwriting talents have drawn equal praise, earning high honors in Finland, where she took home top prize in 2006, and the International Songwriting Competition, where she’s been a semi-finalist three years running.

Zoe has also been a featured performed on Ruf Records’ popular Blues Caravan tours. The twelfth release in her catalog, Gemini follows two highly acclaimed albums on the Ruf imprint, Breaking Free and Songs From The Road. This all-original album was recorded in Bonn, Germany, penned by Layla in concert with multi-instrumentalist Jan Laacks, who composed all the charts. In addition to handling guitar, keyboard and bass duties, he also handled all aspects of recording. They’re aided by Dirk Sengotta and Claus Schulte, who provide percussion on 11 of the 20 cuts.

Disc one, entitled Fragility, is an unhurried, sparsely arranged acoustic treasure propelled by Laacks’ fingerpicking and slide guitar skills. Layla’s voice is smoky smooth, and each of her words – which are fully annotated in the liner notes — shines through with depth and great emotion. The opener, “She Didn’t Believe,” is a tender apology for undervaluing one’s self-worth. The theme’s resolved in the Hill Country-flavored “I’ll Be Reborn Blues” before “Turn This Into Gold” deals with the struggles of a singer trying to make a name for herself in a foreign land.

The subject gets political with “The Deeper They Bury Me,” which recounts of the life of Herman Wallace, who spent 41 years in solitary confinement in notorious Angola Prison only to die a few days after release. The mood sweetens instantly for “Mumbai,” an intoxicating paean to India, before “The Good Life” finds joy in working hard for a loved one and being grateful for what you have.

The tender “I Can’t Imagine My Life Without You” and “Freedom Flowers,” an oath to plant the seeds and watch them grow, follow before “Let Go” describes a desire to move on from a world of isolation. The bright and optimistic love song “Rainbow Pacmen And Unicorns” concludes the acoustic set.

Entitled Courage, the all-electric second CD, is a solid collection of modern blues rock and is as aurally different from the first one as day and night. The darkly tinted “Weakness” powers out of the gate as Layla sings about the end of a romance filled with deceit and lies. And the driving rocker “Dark World” describes male and female prostitutes as being children inside. Opening with the sound of a steam-powered locomotive, “Ghost Train” paints a sad picture as it pictures a boy drummer whose life spirals out of control after inheriting a large amount of money and a girl who works herself into an early grave.

A regimented drumbeat introduces “Bitch With The Head Of Red” — a profane, sexually promiscuous woman. She wants to be pushed into the light to absorb positive energy. The title tune, “Gemini,” which follows, deals with the duality and serious nature of the star sign. But it’s all sweetness and light for “Roses And Lavender,” a pleasing slow-blues love song. The feeling doesn’t last long, however. “White Dog” uses canine and cat imagery as it warns that the pussy’s moving in and that she’s got something to say.

The insanity of the slaughter at the country music festival in Las Vegas last year comes to the fore in “Automatic Gun” before “Are You Still Alive Inside” finds the singer living with booze and drugs and burying her emotions behind forced smiles. The album concludes with the bright and breezy “Little Sister.” Delivered with a Caribbean feel, it’s a song of affirmation for a lady who’s living life right.

Available through all major retail outlets, Gemini offers up powerful statements on many levels. This one should be appealing to any blues lover who possesses diverse tastes. Interesting, moving and thought-provoking throughout. Beware, however: Several of the tunes contain wording or imagery unfit for tender ears.

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