Chantel McGregor has a voice built for stardom. It comes as a breath of fresh air blowing free the cobwebs of complacency then once your attention is held it draws you in calmly, studied but not detached; her articulation and turn of phrase enhancing the emotional narrative of the songs unfolding. It is a young woman’s voice, waiting to share the stories of her fellow sex in all their glory, shame, ambition and sometimes failure. I daresay more than a good proportion of this record’s sales are going to be bought by men regardless.
McGregor has won such British Blues Awards as Young Artist of The Year, Guitarist and Female Vocalist since her 2011 debut album Like No Other, and if she’s content within the blues rock scene that’s currently flourishing that’s all well and good, but if she’s a hankering for fame and fortune beyond that then heavy weight multi-media management could reposition her in to the mainstream. But at what cost? With this her second album, Lose Control, she is potentially heading in that direction without losing any credibility anyway.
Influenced by an assortment of recent US television series and popular culture books, that have caused her to research and read further, Chantel McGregor has come up with a collection of songs that take a Southern Gothic approach, exploring and ruminating on that milieu’s landscape, mythology and its raw emotions. That she moves musically into what has been called “a harder, bigger and bolder rock sound with progressive influences” is musically exciting not least because it adds a muscular edge that both contrasts and mirrors at differing turns her lyrics on a variety of these tunes.
Let us take Fleetwood’s Mac’s Stevie Nicks singing ‘Rhiannon’ as a starting point for past references of the witchy woman ways prevalent on a number of these songs, but let’s alter that aural perspective to another personal and unique voice like say Judie Tzuke who back in the day surrounded herself with an excellent band. Thus, alongside McGregor on vocals, guitar and bass, Livingstone Brown also picks up his four string, plays piano and returns to the producer’s chair he sat in for her debut, Keith McPartling plays drums, and there is the much welcomed addition of Chris Worsey on cello and Charlie Brown on violin on certain tracks.
A statement of intent ‘Take The Power’ opens with an elongated riff that shifts into a crashing chord and sustained lead approach as McGregor incants: “Control him, take the power” on a hookline chorus that’s evokes Skunk Anansie and features a brief solo that bends and holds notes in heavy homage to the late Paul Kossoff then calls home for the opening riff to make a welcome return. ‘Your Fever’ barks up like a vintage Whitesnake riff in contrast to an ethereal voice that bewitches then comes on hard yet with an overall nu-pop rock radio voice. It moves into a coda suitable for TV film chase scenes, building momentum until concluding with sustained solo notes washing over it.
‘Burn Your Anger’ is all thrusting riffs with another big chorus hook – that it rocks but somehow reminds me of Belinda Carlise confuses me personally , and again there’s an all too brief solo before it ends with a rush of ascending chords . So far, pretty good. It gets better.
Things slow down, the mood becoming quieter but more intense on ‘Anasthesize’ as an acoustic picks out the tune and McGregor’s voice wraps you in the creeping vines of the bayou, there to await the dangers of the wild, real or imagined. Alongside merest droplets of piano notes, Brown and Worsey’s violin and cello come to play most chilling here, evoking the spirit of Nick Drake transplanted far from the green fields of Tanworth-in-Arden. The mood changes with a sassy riff that goes metallic as vocals are sung in unison for ‘Southern Belle’ and another big hook chorus. It pushes the macho redneck stereotype to one side and empowers its womenkind. If, as John Lennon put it “Woman is the nigger of the world” with this one she claims the confederate flag for all those Vivien Leighs who were Gone with the Wind.
‘Lose Control’ is in the blues rock Bad Company mould but with a jazzy guitar linking line and a nice bit of wailing solo while ‘Home’ awaits being picks up for use in one of those TV shows that first influenced McGregor, acoustic again save for some evocative steel guitar notes, her voice sounds close to the microphone making it all the more personal and intense. ‘Killing Time’ has a speedy riff intro that’s doubled on bass, but musically it most noticeable for McPartling’s compelling use of a tambourine.
‘Eternal Dream’ begins to wind things down with broken chords leisurely drawn out, and skirting melodies teasingly also found in Patrick Simmons picking through The Doobie Brothers’ ‘I Cheat The Hangman’, the EBDGAD tuning of David Crosby’s ‘Guinnevere’ and Steve Winwood’s composition for Traffic on ‘Dear Mr Fantasy’. ‘Walk On Land’ continues that dream like quality with airy harmony vocals and tambourine shook to tempered good effect once more. This one’s said to be influenced by prog-renaissance man Steven Wilson and as a piano plays out its dark melody McGregor gets behind her six string and wails out the one extensive guitar solo present on this album, the harmony vocals continuing unabated and unafraid.
Don’t be fooled that this is laidback and ladylike; it’s intense with womanly wiles. Lose Control is released on 9th October, Chantel McGregor is on tour now through to early December.