This band aren't remotely what they seem, which is not a bad thing. The one thing that the cover is clear about is that they're a four piece blues band and a good one as well. However, they're not an American band or indeed a British one, which seems to cover the majority of blues rock bands even today. They hail from Porto in Portugal, even though they sing in very clear English. And that's not because the very Anglo sounding Peter Storm happens just moved there, because Peter Storm has no part to play in this band, unless he's the dog on the cover. The vocalist and guitarist who clearly leads the Blues Society is João Belchior.
However, while he has a rich and warm voice with excellent inflection and he has plenty of time for his guitarwork to shine, Bino Ribeiro steals the album out from him only twenty-three seconds in. It's guitar that kicks off Write Down the Blues, though very possibly Ribeiro's rhythm guitar, but a few bars later, it's his harmonica that takes over. It's not omnipresent here, because Ribeiro has a percussion credit on top of those other two roles, but whenever it manifests, it's immediately the sound of the album for me.
For a while, there's a pattern in play. The Blues Society start out with a storming rocking blues and then slow it right down with a slow blues song, and they keep that alternation throughout the first half of the album. Write Down the Blues is the first rocker, just to get us in the mood, and Blame is the first slow blues, with a tasty groove, an elegant guitar and a haunting harmonica. Every time I start to think about how good Belchior is, Ribeiro wanders in and steals my attention right back. It would be fair to call Blame one of my favourites, a creeper of a piece with a Mark Knopfler vibe to the vocals and sometimes the guitar too.
Go Down and Play shifts back from subtle to blatant as a sassy up tempo piece even if it isn't quite the rocker Write Down the Blues was. It's more inexorable and there's that squealing harmonica to make me grin like a madman again. Then Meditation Blues lives up to its title, another slow but tasty piece. And, because you're seeing the pattern, the gloriously titled I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home Tonight ramps things back up again, adding some talkbox that works, even if it grounds the song in the seventies. What are the odds that 52nd Avenue will be a slow blues song?
Well, it isn't, just to mess with our minds, and the pattern shifts over the second half. However the songs order though, there are clearly two modes that the Blues Society mine well. The best of the rockers are early, I think, Write Down the Blues setting a high bar from the outset. However, when it comes to slow blues, all these songs resonate. Blame is an early highlight but I Told You (Not to Treat Me Wrong) may be even better. Never mind Mark Knopfler, this one trawls in Peter Green in especially its vocal approach and some in the guitarwork too.
The question I can't help but ask myself is which is the better approach of the two but I haven't got much reason to answer it. They do both well and even if, over a few listens, I might start to favour a few of the slow blues numbers over their rocking peers, I have no interest in being picky. In either mode, the songs succeed for the same reasons: Belchior's guitar (and, a little behind it, his vocals) and Ribeiro's harmonica. And even if I favour the latter without hesitation, the songs where it fails to show up at all succeed too. Just check out the delicate guitar solo that constitutes the first half of the second half of Meditation Blues. A harmonica wouldn't add anything to this piece because it's all it needs to be with that guitar. And, hey, it's all the more glorious when it shows back up on the talking blues, 52nd Avenue.
I'd have liked to have heard José Reis's bass more, but he's not interested in being flash. He stays back in the mix adding texture to the songs for the most part, though he dominates the early part of I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home Tonight. The remaining member of the band is Jorge Oliveira, who goes by Mister Shuffle, and he's a thoroughly reliable drummer who's exacty where he needs to be in the mix. He doesn't seem to shine initially but, the more we get used to what the album does, the more he stands out on repeat listens. He does a lot more on Blame than we think on our first listen. Everyone here is excellent.
I guess there's one more thing that the cover is honest about and that's that Second is the second Peter Storm & The Blues Society album. I bet you can't guess what their first was called! Of course you can and that means that you already know what title they'll slap onto the next one.