Eliza Neals is an enormously talented performer. Her brand of blues-rock draws comparisons to the likes of Janis Joplin and while that’s a fair comparison vocally, I find that Neals’ musicianship adds a dimension that was sometimes not there with Joplin.
Not denigrating Joplin’s talent at all, but just saying that Eliza Neals is her own woman and not a copy of anyone else. Her latest album, 10,000 Feet Below is a strong work with some solid hard driving, almost blue collar blues-rock sounds, but then curiously enough, she switches things up and delivers softer, poetic songs with gorgeous lyrics.
Those different sounds are created by using several different musicians and combinations of musicians throughout the eleven songs on the album. She mostly teams up with guitarist Howard Glazer who plays guitar on all but two tracks. Those are covered by Paul Nelson and Billy Davis. She uses five different drummers: Skeeto Valdez, Demarcus Sumter, Brian Clune, Rubin Nizri, and John Medeiros. She also employs four different bass players: Paul Randolph, Lenny Bradford, Mike Griot, and John Abraham. Harp players include Dave Feeny, Erik Maluchnik, Mike Puwal, and Thomas Stewart. Neals herself provided the vocals, and also played piano, Hammond B3, Rhodes, and tambourine.
Neals is also a prolific songwriter who composed or co-wrote all but one of the songs on the album. This is a fun album that I think you might find yourself attracted to for a number of different reasons.
Neals kicks off the album with Cleotus, a short, guitar driven song utilizing that swampy Resonator sound and with dark lyrics that definitely catch your ears. Neals growls her way through the song and Glazer’s guitar work shines.
She follows up with Another Lifetime, a slow building song that relies on Glazer’s guitar to bring us under its spell. Neals then brings in her vocals that sound distant and mysterious. I love the effect and the rougher edges of her voice are extremely powerful. There is some serious voodoo going on with this song!
Next up is one of my favorite numbers on the album, Burn The Tent Down. Give it a second because there’s a strange intro that gives away to some serious rocking blues. She paints some serious word imagery with her lyrics and the song just hooks you and doesn’t let go.
She follows that with the title track, 10,000 Feet Below, and this has a great opening with Neals’ vocals and Sumter’s drums leading the way. It’s a great number and her voice just keeps finding ways of bringing her searing emotion to the surface. Look for a lot of airplay for this one!
Neals previously released You Ain’t My Dog No More as a single so we big time radio producers could give you a little taste of the album. We did that, and so did a lot of other blues shows, because this is a hard-rocking number that really kicks it! Glazer’s pyrotechnics are strong and mix well with the edginess that is Neals’ voice. Guys, listen up to this one, the message is really not so subtle, more like a smack on the head with a rolled up newspaper!
Cold Cold Night features Paul Nelson, who played with the great Johnny Winter. The song is quiet, relying on his sweet guitar and more controlled vocals from Neals. You can also hear Neals’ underrated piano skills on this number. It’s a nice change of pace and shows that she is quite comfortable performing songs that are not as hard driving as others. Very sweet number.
The one song on the album that isn’t written or co-written by Neals is Hard Killing Floor. You’re in pretty good company when that one song is a Skip James classic. Her piano playing is beautiful and this is a gorgeous version of the song. Her voice is haunting and ethereal. I love this one and plan on playing it as much as possible.
Call Me Moonshine gives Howard Glazer a “featured” status. He does play guitar on all but two of the songs on the album and he is obviously an integral part of Neals’ sound. She’s back with her harder edged material, but it is still dark and there is a sense of danger in her delivery.
Rubin Nizri and Mike Griot team up with some great drums and bass respectively on Downhill On A Rocket. The vocals have a real swampy feel, but there’s more of rock edge in the music. Still, it’s a powerful number that will find you humming along and it could even be the dark horse for your favorite song on the album.
Merle Dixon has that Southern Rock feel. Seems entirely appropriate since some of the best Southern Rockers had their roots in the blues. She’s got a ton of attitude in this song. It initially wasn’t one of my favorites, but it’s grown on me.
The album concludes with At The Crossroads, and features Billy Davis, who used to play with Jimi Hendrix. At 6:00-plus, it’s the longest cut on the album and once again uses Neals’ fine piano to open the song. Her voice is softer and honey sweet. Her lyrics are poetic and mystical and this is one of the best songs she’s ever done.
It’s easy to see that this is a terrific album that pushes the barriers of the blues. Be forewarned, if you are not a fan of the blues-rock combination, you might not get into this album. However, if you like your blues with a real rock attitude, this will quickly become one of your favorites.
Neals and Glazer make a powerful combination, but don’t discount her keyboard skills and her chameleon like ability to change her vocal styles to fit the mood of the song. I find her to be refreshing and exciting and look forward to her every release. If this is your first time listening to her, do yourself a favor at check out http://www.elizaneals.com/ and sample this and some of her earlier work.