Bad Reed - Bad Reed
Bad Reed are a new group from Brantford, Ontario, a town just about an hour from Toronto. It’s difficult to define Bad Reed’s sound in one go, as their self-titled debut EP contains blues, metal, southern rock and synth-driven electronica. The three-song EP introduces would-be fans to a group who are finding their sound but who also already have a solid and diverse base from which to build.
Each of the constituent members of Bad Reed - Costa Chatzis on drums and percussion, Austin Sharpe on bass, Sydney Sollazzo vocals and keyboards and guitarist Graham Walker – are all extremely proficient musicians. Chatzis moves seamlessly from jazz to blues to rock drums as he deems necessary, and Sharpe lays down complex, blues-driven basslines effortlessly, adding warmth and authenticity to the band’s blues rock vibe. Graham Walker’s guitar also vacillates between blues, rock and outright metal, layering over drums and bass while also punching up and adding surprise to the sound. Sollazzo’s vocals are tight and pitch-perfect, and when she plays the Nord Stage 2 (a programming tube synth similar to a Moog), yet another surprising layer intertwines with the group’s already stratified sound.
Because of the expertise of the group’s members, they have, unfortunately, fallen into a common pratfall on this first EP: it’s almost too perfect. Since they have chosen blues as their base, the challenge for Bad Reed and indeed most blues and rock artists, is to find the balance between technical prowess and emotional connection. On all three songs, “Punch It,” “Slackjaw Romance” and “Cassava,” that technical tightness can sound a little too tight. The ability to open up and let the passion go is the mark of any great rock or blues artist, and Bad Reed are almost there, but the lid is still sealed on the pickle jar, as it were. Sharpe’s bass is sometimes too ornamented and is in danger of overtaking in places it shouldn’t. The composition is privy to this over-perfection as well. In “Slackjaw Romance,” for example, there are many pauses in the music where if the last notes are struck just right, they could pregnant with emotion, but instead the feel too technical, and the band’s counting within the pause is almost audible.
Sollazzo’s vocals seem to be the biggest sufferer in the case of being overly technical. Since she’s clearly classically trained, her vocals, while technically perfect in pitch, are so tightly wound that they don’t quite match the loose, bluesy feel of the music. They also seem to lack emotion, especially in the verses of “Punch It” and “Cassava.” There are parts of both of these songs where she does let her voice go a bit, and the result is breathtaking. The potential is definitely there. By contrast, in the opening of “Slackjaw Romance,” the tight, operatic side of her voice works as a wonderful contrast to the somewhat folkish guitar. It’s clear that Sollazzo is capable of both passion and control in her vocals, but the rub is for her and the rest of the group will be to identify where the more classical vocals benefit the music, and where a fluid, bluesy timbre is more effective.
This balance between technical and emotional will likely be worked out in time, but the great elements of Bad Reed’s first EP far outweigh the perfection snag. Album opener and first single/video “Punch It,” for example, is largely a gorgeous, dark and brooding piece which is basically radio-ready. The classic blues guitar and bass are interrupted in the best possible way by Sollazzo’s Nord, which by its melody would simply back the blues and rock if it were an organ or piano. Because of its unique tube-driven sound, however, the Nord contributes an eeriness and interest which compliment Sollazzo’s voice in the chorus. This chorus one of the examples of where the singer really opens up that vox to the hair-raising minor key progression the group have composed. When she puts her soul to it, Sollazo’s voice is so emotive and passionate that she transcends music and channels the esoteric.
“Slackjaw Romance” follows “Punch It,” and it is a very different track as far as this EP goes. Beginning as more folk-driven blues, Walker’s guitar mixes with Sollazzo’s voice in an almost Simon and Garfunkel-like way. When the blues kicks in, it’s soft and supports Sollazzo’s beatific vocals very well for the most part. The album’s closer, “Cassava” is back to blues rock, but with a decided metal bent a’la The Sword. This is where Walker and Chatzis get to really have some fun with syncopation and complex polyrhythms, and also where Sollazzo really belts out the passion and throws off her technical worries, save for the verse. Again the almost occult quality her voice can take on is present here, and it is goosebump-inducing. Both here and in “Punch It,” when Sollazzo lets loose it’s almost as if she channels all the dark forces of nature; a musical conjurer from another dimension. This is perfect for blues, metal and indie rock, so the more she goes into this place with her vocals, the better.
For Bad Reed, all the elements of a great rock band are there in spades: technical prowess, passion, diversity and a little something extra in Sollazzo’s voice and synth. Bringing all these elements together in the right proportions is the only minor challenge this highly promising group face. More Nord, more metal and more emotion should all be on the table for Bad Reed’s next venture. That said, they are starting with a much higher bar than the average blues rock band. When their first full album hits, it has the potential to hit hard.
May 03 2016
Writer and contributor on Brutal Resonance
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