Blues Pills: Lady in Gold (Nuclear Blast) Review

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Blues Pills have an interesting history, in that their story began here in Iowa, with a couple of brothers, Zack Anderson and Cory Berry, but after meeting vocalist Elin Larsson, and subsequently moving to her home country of Sweden, things really took off for them. After a few personnel changes, a couple of EPs, and a successful first album, the band has created a following built the old fashioned way, by touring and winning fans over.

Successful (and often sold out) tours of Australia, Europe, and the UK have earned Blues Pills slots at larger festivals, and they recently played before Black Sabbath, one of their major influences, amongst other big name acts, on the European festival circuit.

Lady in Gold is their second full length album, and it makes the case for Blues Pills’ growth as a band. It would be easy, and even expected, for the band to keep making the hard driving, blues-driven, Sabbath-meets-Peter-Green-era-Fleetwood-Mac music they’ve become known for, and there’s certainly a great deal of that on Lady in Gold. But what is striking is how incredibly song-driven it is.

The album kicks off with the title track, and it’s a great way to open an album, immediately catchy and grooving, and starting off with a piano octave riff, to signal that things are going to be a little different this time around. But after the song really gets going, you also get panned psychedelic guitars, organ, and background vocals.

Blues Pills just got a little bit bigger.

The “Lady in Gold” in question is Death, and the lyrics don’t shy away from big topics, including the hypocrisy of religion in “Little Boy Preacher.”

But mostly the album is filled with great riffs and songs and the powerhouse that is Elin Larsson’s voice, which growls and coos and soars throughout the record. She is seriously a force to be reckoned with. One of the high points of Lady in Gold is the electric piano ballad “I Felt a Change,” where Larsson’s vocal is reminiscent of Aretha Franklin in spots, and represents something of a departure for the band. The song segues nicely into the next track, “Gone So Long,” introducing a glockenspiel melody and stomping and building to a howling end.

“Won’t Go Back” is a female empowerment anthem, and is super driving and riffy as hell, with a great keyboard part that’s memorable.

There are organ flourishes all over the album as well, especially effective on the song “Rejection,” possibly the most bluesy song here, about how cruel love can be, and how much pain it can cause.

With Lady in Gold, Blues Pills have managed to find that balance of songwriting that doesn’t mean sacrificing rocking out, and it’s fantastic to hear them mature like this on their own terms.

Lady in Gold will be released Aug. 5 on Nuclear Blast.

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Bryon Dudley is a writer and musician from Ames. He has written about music and other topics for a number of local publications and blogs. When not playing music and putting out albums with groups such as Strong Like Bear, Liana, and Rockets of Desire, he is helping other Iowa artists record their music at his studio, The Spacement, and releasing it on the Iowa label he co-founded, Nova Labs. He has a tattoo of an aardvark and is adjusting to bifocals.