Wednesday 11 August 2010

Kyla Brox Band

Friezland Church Hall, Saturday 7 August 

There is no more authentic blues and soul singer in the UK than Kyla Brox. Blues and soul, note, because the two forms are indistinguishable when they're played right. The fact that Kyla is still playing such intimate gigs as Friezland Church Hall is almost proof of authenticity. Her raw talent and purity is a shocking thing in an age of conveyor-belt pop idols. 

She's so good that she merits two kinds of listening. At home, Brox CDs can honourably share the same shelf as Janis Joplin or Tracey Nelson (she has a better voice than either) or, getting closer to the source, Irma Thomas and Koko Taylor. But there's no substitute for the intensity of the live experience. 

The show kicks off with a slow-burning blues. From the go, Kyla demonstrates her mastery of the soul singer's art. She calibrates a performance perfectly, and, like the best soul singers, she takes her time and stokes up the heat by gradual degrees. 

Next, Frustration vents some negative feelings about the daily grind. It's an original by Brox and Blomeley (Danny; bassist, life and musical partner). Every serious musician's goal is the search for one's own voice. This becomes even more urgent in a structurally rigid form like the blues. Part of the solution is to write original material, firmly in the vernacular, but with enough individuality to be distinctive. Always Looking At Me is another original, and the scenario overturns blues machismo: it's the girl who takes the initiative. 

Kyla does 'sassy' very well, but then, to put such role-playing in broad relief, Gone is about real emotion and real pain: specifically, the bereavement of Kyla's much-loved grandmother. When she sings, "it's unbelievable you won't know my first child", the line acquires extra poignancy from the knowledge that Kyla is the mother of 13-month-old Sadie. But even blues singers can buckle under the weight of pain, and so Shaken And Stirred returns to lusty concerns, with Kyla declaring her women's love rights.

This zig-zag of conflicting emotion is one of the chief characteristics of soul music, which has always blurred the distinction between pleasure and pain to a sadomasochistic degree. It's probably the one thing that damns it the most in our straight, strait-laced, anodyne culture. 

How hard is it to be a young woman on the road? There's a famous quote from Janis Joplin: "On stage I make love to twenty-five thousand people, and then I go home alone". In a very tough business, it's necessary to have a support network. First there was dad, of course: Kyla started singing with her father, legendary bluesman Victor Brox, at the age of 12, and is a veteran of two gruelling and very surreal (naturally, for Victor) Australian tours. But bassist Danny Blomeley and drummer Phil Considine have been playing with Kyla since they were all members of Victor's band, the edition laughingly referred to as the "child slavery band". The musical benefits are obvious: the joint co-operativeness, the telepathic understanding. They predict each other's thoughts, and are really inside the music. Whereas many blues drummers are ploddingly four-square, Considine is a delight, with a jazzman's ability to vary the dynamics of a beat. Danny Blomeley is always there, both on-stage - he is self-effacing virtuoso on bass - and off-stage, as helpmate, manager and proud dad. 

Don't Change Horses In The Middle of Stream has been a highlight of Brox gigs since 2004, when Kyla rescued it from an old LP by Tower of Power, and made it all her own. It's great. This kind of aggressive soul, which draws on hard rock riffs and is decidedly unsentimental, is under-explored but fabulously potent. Think of I'm Just Not Ready For Love by Erma Franklin, or There's A Break in the Road by Betty Harris. It's natural territory for Kyla, whose blues legacy gives her license to be blisteringly abrasive. 

There are unexpected touches, like the flute on Do I Move You. How many other celebrations of raw sex are embellished by pretty tooting from this most pure and elevated of instruments? Marshall Gill is a guitarist from the Peter Green School. spinning single-line arpeggios that cut like razors, driven by melody, so that the attack is concealed and all the more effective. A true guitar hero, Gill is beginning to look disconcertingly like Seasick Steve. 

Another Marshall, Tony Marshall, is a saxophonist with a vocalised quality, like King Curtis or Junior Walker (all the best soul saxophonists, in fact). Occasionally, he will venture into Charlie Parker mode, and launch an avalanche. More often, he prefers to be Tony Marshall. 

But then Kyla can also turn around and surprise. On the second Nina Simone song of the evening, the crowd-pleasing Feeling Good (reserved for the encore), she sailed into the upper register and achieved operatic purity with some uncustomary high notes. The different registers convey different emotional states: pleading in the upper register, brusque and sassy in the lower. The duality can be unsettling, especially when they alternate in the same line, but it's very, very compelling. Kyla can make the earth move when she sings. 

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