24 JUL 2019 // A REVIEW BY STEVE SHYU
Blue River Baby are a Wellington band that formed in 2016 and they have since captivated countless live audiences with their blend of classic rock, dub, soul, ska and reggae. Last year, they recorded their very first full-length release with Lee Prebble at Surgery Studios in the windy capital.
The album opens to a placid blend of keyboard, guitars and silken singing, commanding listeners’ attention and holding it. The drums promptly enter with an offbeat shuffle and a reggae bounce, and the lead female vocals take on a blues-pop sound. The song then journeys into a blues rock mood, and out of nowhere, rapped vocals kick in halfway and adds yet another style to the already-eclectic combination of genres. The flowing lyrics throws in a vibrant, urban attitude not normally associated with folk or blues-rock, and it’s a delightful experience.
Rap verses again make an appearance on the second track, Walk of Shame. Like the opening tune, shuffling drumbeats, a hoppy bassline and lively-yet-soulful blues singing takes the centre stage, only this time the guitar distortion is dialed up, and there’s more rhythmic variation of groove between verses and choruses, courtesy of the drums and bass guitar.
By the second and third song, one begins to hear a myriad of different influences, and impressively, the band’s songwriting is varied not just from tune to tune, but even within a song. To illustrate, a track particularly worthy of note is Closer, which begins as a slow-jam but gradually morphs to an emotive and moving dance. The first half reminds one of Lionel Richie at his most bitter-sweet, as though written for a montage in a coming-of-age film. The song changes gears at the last third, and breaks into a smile-inducing reggae groove, then properly capping off the rolling tune with drums in double-time, backing vocals and a saxophone adding to the dramatic swells, all supporting the highlight of the track- The brilliantly-soulful lead singing.
Also worth noting is the wacky Vigilante Panda, whose quirky lyrics literally describe a crime-fighting panda, provided by uplifting, bold, male vocals over a reggae beat, and the comical feel is further amplified by the keyboards. Kinda like Hong Kong Phooey of the modern day.
Nearing the end of the fifth track, Crazy Town, there’s a guitar solo heavy on effects, particularly the wah pedal, and when matched with the deep-grooved basslines, it sounded very much like the now-defunct Kiwi group Weta; I reckon Aaron Tokona would be proud!
This is an album filled with great compositions, drawing inspiration from a multitude of musical genres, creating a sensual, emotive, dynamic and fun listening experience. The best example of this is on their newest single Black Yard Town, located at the album’s end; the range of styles is most abundant, beginning with a slow laid-back intro, cruising between blues-rock and ska, descending into a slow saxophone solo, rising back into an epic reggae-rock conclusion.
Though the blues-rock and reggae vibes are prominent, but Blue River Baby don’t restrict themselves to labels, instead making full use of alt-rock guitars, jazz drumming, hip-hop lyrics, 70’s pop aesthetic and more.
This has been an impressive listen, and no doubt live performances of these songs will be even more so. Be sure to keep an ear open for Blue River Baby as they tour Aotearoa!
Blue River Baby’s self-titled debut album will be out 26th July. Check it out on Spotify and purchase it from Bandcamp.