Layla Zoe – The World Could Change
Cable Car Records
12 tracks – 72 minutes
Vancouver, British Columbia native Layla Zoe is an internationally recognized blues vocalist. She got her start as a teen singing for her father’s blues band and followed that with a stint with another local band. She then relocated to Toronto where she released her first album, Shades of Blue, in 2006. That same year she won a songwriting contest in Finland. That gained attention from German guitarist Henrik Freischlader, who is also the owner of Cable Car Records. The two collaborated on her 2013 album, The Lily, which gained international acclaim and was selected by Downbeat magazine as one of the best albums of the year. That attention led Ruf Records to select Layla as one of the three performers in their 2016 Blues Caravan along with Ina Forsman and Tasha Taylor.
Layla has released several other solo records before and after The Lily. But now in 2023, she and Henrik have collaborated on a follow-up album. Henrik produced, the album, and plays guitar, drums and bass. Moritz Fuhrhop adds organ to the sound. The songs contain all original lyrics written by Layla with Henrik composing the music that fits the songs. Her lyrics are deeply extensive stories, not the simple repetitive structures that accompanies so many pop songs. Layla’s voice ranges from the overly dynamic to a soft whisper over the course of the album.
Layla chastises her lover for having a “Dark Heart” noting he is “Building your castles of broken beer bottles. Wife beater t-shirts and rock and roll battles.” A pounding beat drives Layla’s explosive vocals.
Lyla starts softly and builds to a roar as she tells the story of “Honey Pie”, a young girl with a bright future but concludes with the spoken lines “In the world of dreams I listen to you, and hear your deep concerns, about a planet of mice not men, who hide among their words.”
Layle softens her voice for a gospel-like ballad on “Praying Kind” as she pleads to the Lord “I am falling apart; won’t you ease my bad dreams. Lord, won’t you show me, and give me peace.”
On “The World Could Change” she expresses concern over the changes in the world noting “These old men should be ashamed.” But she declares that we must light “A flame to disable their plans”
The theme of the title song is extended in “Man Behind the Curtain” who is “…cooking something for you”. “Roasting in his fire, gorging on your greed. Getting fat on your selfishness. You are what you eat. Losing faith in loneliness. So drunk on your knees.” And she finally asks, “Will you stand and light a torch, or will you be condemned.”
“Brother” is another soft, evidently personal ballad citing “I heard the news last night that you were gone. Brother Henry can you forgive me. I Wasn’t there when you needed me.”
On “Watch What You’re Doing” Layla continues to express her concerns, erupting with emotion and calling for everyone to stand up as she declares “Trapped in your emotions, drowning in the news. Only you have the power. You can always choose! Are you so tired, you can’t see the end.”
Similar to the message in John Lennon’s “Imagine”, Layla is looking for a way forward for mankind in “The Truth Song”. She sees the positive “In solidarity. Worshipping the light of God. And loving each other, no matter what our difference.”
“Baby Bird” is another soft ballad as she remembers a child that has let her nest and expresses her love, her remorse in having the child leave, and begs forgiveness.
Henrik’s guitar work is a standout on “Jasmine” as Layla tells the tale of a lonely girl that is on a constant move “cause life is a ball”.
The opening run of Henrik’s guitar on “We’re All the Same” sounds like a lick from Walter Trout. Layla states that “I got stories I can tell you of heartache, fear and pain. But you’ve got stories like mine. In the end we’re all the same.”
The album ends with Herink fingerpicking an acoustic guitar on the ballad “Shine Brightly”. The song shifts the sentiment so freely expressed in the earlier songs from one of anxiety or despair of world condition or personal issues to one finding the hope that each of us can have in our everyday proceedings.
Throughout, Layla’s lyrics are standouts certainly warranting close review and attendance to their messages. Layla’s voice on the ballads is particularly appealing and draws you in. But on the harder blues rock songs, her voice is sometimes absolutely explosive and perhaps overly emotive. Henrik’s guitar works well providing appropriate accents in her songs, but somehow many of the harder blues rock songs have a certain sameness to the sound that seem to lack some additional instrumentation that the lyrics demand.