Every time I review a few albums in a row that take me a while to fully appreciate, I end up with an abiding wonder as to whether I'm being deluged by too much new material and I need to step back for a while and level set myself again. Inevitably, though, before I do, something like this shows up that's as immediate as anything I've ever heard and bam, I'm level set again.
This is the second Lee Aaron album I've reviewed this year, but the other one, Radio On!, came out last July and I was catching up with it in January before drawing a line on the past year. This one is brand new, less than two weeks old as I write, so there are sixteen months between them, but it's rare for musicians to knock out two albums that quickly nowadays. Maybe the former was delayed due to COVID or maybe Aaron's on a creative kick right now. Whatever the reason, the last album was strong and this one's even better.
I mentioned a couple of things last time that are all the more obvious here. One is the intonation that Aaron brings to these songs, which could be used as a textbook. It isn't fair to say that she just sings these songs, because she does a lot more than that, she brings them to life so well that I felt that she was almost ready to climb through my computer monitor and continue singing to me from the edge of my desk. Whether she's adding vocal fry to snarl and croon out a rocker like The Devil U Know or delicately unfolding the story in a ballad like Red Dress, she endows her delivery with a character that will have other singers ringing their vocal coaches to let them in on the secret.
The other is that there are a lot of textures combining here and many of them feel like they're the work of a blues singer singing rock. For the most part, this is a pop/rock album, the music firmly on the rock side of that ever polarising boundary with quite a few toes immersed in the blues, but the sound is full of pop sensibility, infuriatingly catchy, with Freak Show top on that front. It often reminds of commercial Pat Benatar but the other influence ends up overwhelming that even on the lightest and poppiest numbers. That's the Rolling Stones, whose stamp is on this album from the very beginning.
Rock Bottom Revolution is an excellent opener that kicks in with a simple but highly effective riff from Sean Kelly, an even simpler and even more effective bass line from Dave Reimer and a sassy blues rock vocal from Aaron. There's blues here and rock and funk and pop and gospel behind the eventual build and it all ends up very much in Rolling Stones territory, commercial Stones sure and without the same tones but the Stones nonetheless. The blues rock number Trouble Maker is even more obvious and other songs play in this ballpark too, like the funky Still Alive and the title track that closes out the album.
What I took away from this one that's new is just how much fun Lee Aaron is obviously having. She has spent quite a while away from rock music, singing pop, blues and especially jazz, and it's clear that she likes her songs on the looser side nowadays where she and the musicians behind her can just enjoy the heck out of playing them. I'm sure that whenever they play these songs live, they're able to bring something just a little different to them that wasn't there the night before. I could even believe that with Red Dress, which is a story ballad. I tend to dread orchestrated ballads and often skip them on repeat listens, but I was hanging on every word this time.
There's a line in The Devil U Know when Aaron snarls, "I'm gonna rule this whole damn town", and I had no doubt that she meant it in that moment, but for the rest of that song and the rest of this album, I took back that belief because she's having so much obvious fun not running anything that she'd turn down a crown just to be able to move into the next song. And, while the songwriting and the simplicity and the looseness all play their part, it's that fun that makes this album so amazing. It's contagious. I may miss the Metal Queen I remember from my youth, but this album makes me want to play it over and over rather than pull earlier releases off the shelf. It's a peach.