Heard Lately #7: Bloodest Saxophone-Texas Queens 5 review

Haiku of contrition:

The Fringe observers. 
Always present at key points. 
Disc is important.

Artist: Bloodest Saxophone 
Album: Texas Queens 5 
Release date: February 7, 2019

The deal. I hate to say it, but I’m a bit of a sucker for high-concept albums. Not necessarily musically high-concept (sorry, Queensrÿche) but more an album with a hook. Which is what Bloodest Saxophone’s Texas Queens 5 is — a concept album. It’s a Japanese blues/swing band backing a collection of five Texas blues singers. The women, Diunna Greenleaf, Lauren Cervantes, Angela Miller, Jai Malano and Crystal Thomas, are fantastic, and Bloodest Saxophone are tight, but if not for the story behind the album, I’m not sure I’d be writing about it.

The album is good. It’s solid blues that veers into jazz and 60s Motown. The singers are across-the-board excellent. But there’s nothing particularly distinctive about any of the songs. It’s incredibly well-executed, but it has the feel of seeing a great band in a club, where you have a great time and love the show, but don’t feel compelled seek out any of the music afterwards. In other words, Texas Queens 5 is a fun moment, but not something I see myself returning to. But the songs are great and worth documenting.

“I’ve Got a Feeling” features singer Greenleaf. Her deep voice cuts through the horn-driven backing track, which has a ska-like energy. The music might be goofy with another singer, but Greenleaf’s vocals give the track an authority. It’s almost like the music are kids running around misbehaving and Greenleaf is the parent, getting them to obey.

Malano’s cover of Rufus Thomas’s “Walking the Dog” benefits more from the up-tempo backing band. It’s got the energy of a 1960s dance party. The sax solo feels like the second coming of Junior Walker, but the song is at its apex when Malano is pulling the band, effortlessly conveying contempt and playfulness.

Texas Queens 5 also features two instrumentals, “Pork Chop Chick,” an original, and “Cockroach Run,” a Lafayette Thomas cover. On the one hand, I appreciate the band wanting some time in the spotlight. However, since the concept of the album hinges upon the five Texas singers, I’m not sure how the instrumentals fit in. They’re fine, but, in general, Bloodest Saxophone works best when they’re backing and challenging a top-notch singer.

Straight talk. The issue with this album is that while it’s high-concept, it’s not high-enough concept. The idea of a Japanese band backing these amazing Texan singers is great. And if the songs had been related somehow, either by theme or by songwriter, this would have been something special. Also, getting more interaction between the singers, although obviously expensive and complex, might have strengthened the album. One of the album’s best tracks is Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” It’s been tackled by everyone from Muddy Waters to the Rolling Stones to Etta James. Here, all five singers work the song, and it’s positively captivating. More group efforts like that might have taken this concept to the next level.

The confession. This is a cool, interesting album but I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I just sort of let it sit there. Sometimes I really like an album, and I think it should be heard, but it’s not something I’ll put into heavy rotation. This is notable and interesting, but I’m not attached, personally. It’s sort of like the Observers from Fringe.

Closing arguments. This is a good record. It’s solid blues. The vocalists are all incredible. The backing band is great. Together, it doesn’t add up to an essential album, but it’s neat and enjoyable, and definitely worth a listen.

The pile

(another digital download)

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So much amazing music comes out all of the time. I review what I can as quickly as I can, working my physical and digital piles as efficiently as possible, but things fall between the cracks. Rather than giving up on things that are a little past their prime, contemporary-review-standards-wise, I’m going back for the overflow that deserves to be heard — even if it’s a little late.