(4 / 5)
Kiwi artist and producer Blair Jolland is a new name to me. He’s London-based these days and earns a crust making sound and music for film and TV soundtracks. But he never lets his day job eradicate a desire to make music for the love of it, and because he feels the need to do so.
With the freedom to write, sing, play, produce and record whatever he fancies in his own studio, without any restriction or limitation, no thought to chasing fame, fortune or chart placings. It’s all about the music.
So, is that freedom a double-edged sword? Well, you cannot second-guess what’s coming next, and its not like much else out there, in my opinion. But for me, the slight fly in the ointment is it doesn’t have any individual niche sound. If you were to hear it on the radio, there’s no one style and it falls between the cracks for nailing it into a genre.
He will probably shout “hooray, I achieved what I set out to do”, when he reads that last comment. But after hearing this record three times all the way through, not long afterwards on all three listens, I could not have hummed any tune or recalled much about it, if I had been held at gun point to do so. Bang…I am brown bread!
I didn’t feel much of an emotional connection to anything on the record. Sorry Blair. But, that said; I still really enjoyed hearing the album – VERY classy stuff.
He definitely has a decent voice, with a very versatile approach to each song vocally. It’s a given he knows his way around the studio on the production side. But the material is a gumbo of styles and doesn’t offer a core sound.
Mr Jollands was born in New Zealand and is now based in London, where he has a studio and has won Emmy nominations for his film soundtrack work. Most recently he has worked on the films “Pride”, “Wild Bill”, “Bleak House”, “A Touch of Cloth” and the award winning “Shackleton”. He was signed to Boy George’s label More Protein, under the alias El Hula, and dropped two albums “Hotel” and “Violent Love”.
He and has globe-trotted from Shanghai to Sydney and Bali to Berlin; his travels inspiring the song writing on the new record. His battle and eventual victory with Lymes Disease, also informed his writing here.
He has been compared to the likes of Beck, Nick Cave, Scott Walker, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Rufus Wainwright by various music writers. Jury’s out for me on all those names.
The album was recorded in London, New Zealand and Spain in 2017. Blair sings, plays guitar, sitar, piano, trumpet and harmonica. 10-tracks all penned by Blair, opening with the title cut, which has a mesmerising “7 Blood” chant at its core, and some gorgeous strings; with a bit of a Philly Sound and 70s disco vibe.
Almost Tom Moulton’s fingerprints on it. Cool horn arrangement too and the backing vocals add great value. But that string arrangement is superb. If I were still a nightclub DJ, as I was in the late 70s and early 80s, I’d be crying out for a 12” vinyl mix of this sucker and wearing it out.
“I’ll Remember You” changes tack completely; think Roy Orbison and Richard Hawley. More lush strings and Iraina Mancini’s duet vocal fits as tight as a glove to Blair’s moody and brooding, very impressive lead vocal. Another tick for ace production – this track co-produced by Jon Kelly and Alan Gregg.
“Not Enough” is in yet another style, and put me in mind of a more classy and credible Robbie Williams, when he was working with Guy Chambers on the song writing. So far; all of these tracks could easily be heard on movie or TV soundtracks and there’d be a mass Shazam epidemic, with people trying to find out who the music is by. Me included. Clearly, Blair’s day job is not going to waste here.
“Burning Man” indelibly imprints the lyric, ”You can’t set fire to a burning man”, in your brain. Another fine job from vocalist Iraina Mancini and Blair together. “Black Diamond” has a vocal sounding a bit like Jake Shears of the Scissors Sisters to my ears. Nice sound. “Mojacar Moon” doesn’t do it for me; pseudo reggae meets Latin. No ta….But “Revelations” does, and puts me in mind of David Byrne, which is not a bad thing at all. Another standout cut from the 10. Love the grunged-up, loosey goosey guitar break.
“I Will Carry You” has an irritating drum track; which for me sits too high in the mix. Slowest track of the lot, the penultimate cut, “Drifting Song” has stripped back, acoustic vibes with a passionate lead vocal.
Some nice higher register stuff, before a finely-crafted string section arrangement. Love the light and shade this track offers the collection, and maybe would have worked better earlier in the track listing, as everything else is mainly up-tempo.
“Restless Soul” closes proceedings. Folkie harmonica and gospel organ, and some determined acoustic guitar chords open the track. Kind of country. Kind Jagger or Dylan from years gone by. T Bone Burnett territory on a Cohen Brothers movie soundtrack, waiting to happen.
My money is on some of these songs getting snapped up by some sharp music supervisor on a big movie or HBO TV series, anytime soon. Blair Jollands smiling all the way to the bank.
With zero thought about some dodgy old UK music critic telling him he doesn’t have an individual sound. And bloody good luck to him too. Intrigued to know what he will come out with next.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’