Sunday, April 25, 1999

Blessid's latest showcases different sounds


ALBUM REVIEW

BY LARRY NAGER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “The Last Day” is the first song, opening the disc with a drum roll and a barrage of electric guitars. Can this be Blessid Union of Souls?

        Then an acoustic guitar strums in, Eliot Sloan's familiar voice takes over and we're firmly back in Blessid Union's tuneful, passionate world.

        But you can't go Home again, and Blessid Union doesn't want to. The trademark soulful vocals and sweet harmonies are intact, but their third album finds Cincinnati's best-selling pop-rockers venturing far from the “rural soul” of their 1995 debut.

        Mr. Sloan's elastic R&B-styled vocals remain the focal point of the group, but under the direction of the production team of Emosia and C.P. Roth, the band has toughened its sound with a dose of modern guitar rock. The result is Blessid Union's tightest, most focused album yet.

        There's blaring, bluesy harmonica on “Hey Leonardo” and “That's the Girl I've Been Telling You About.” Delta-styled slide guitar licks open “Stone Glass Window.”

        They take some lyrical chances as well. In Blessid Union songs, Mr. Sloan's usual role is the warm, caring boyfriend. “That's the Girl I've Been Telling You About” finds him singing with an audible leer, “I've been dying for a chance just to treat her like the ripe, little peach she is.”

        But the heart of Blessid Union remains the contrast between Mr. Sloan's vocals and the band's pop-rock sound. The result is far more emotional than rock radio's usual cynical, callow fare. Even “Hey Leonardo,” with its string of pop culture references, is, in the end, a love song from a guy exulting that his girlfriend cares more for him than she does for his stuff.

        “Standing on the Edge of the Earth” is a classic, Blessid ballad. The introduction features Mr. Sloan in as fine a bit of singing as he's put on record, as, over a bed of strings, he effortlessly slides into soulful falsetto.

        “Stone Glass Window” blends rapid-fire rapped lyrics with a swaggering rock rhythm and high-intensity slide guitar; “South Hampton Avenue” is a folkish story of an isolated, dysfunctional family sung over a “Walk On the Wild Side” bass.

        “The Rest of My Life,” a piano-driven, string-laden ballad, sounds like vintage Blessid Union. “When I said, "I love you,' that's what I meant,” Mr. Sloan sings. That's followed by the title song, which continues the gentle mood as the singer mourns a love gone wrong with simple, acoustic guitar accompaniment.

        “Real Good Friends,” the last song listed, starts out much the same as those previous two before kicking into spunky pop-rock.

        The hidden track is “Revolution.” A bit less grungy than the Beatles' original, it's considerably harder-rocking than Blessid Union's fans are used to hearing from the group. It's a good-timey way to close a disc that, if not a complete change in direction for the band, at least marks a welcome shift in gears. Walking Off the Buzz keeps the best parts of Blessid Union's style, while energizing it with a fresher instrumental approach.

        Now, if their new record company can manage to stay in business long enough to promote it.

        Larry Nager is the Enquirer's popular-music writer. E-mail him at lnager@aol.com.

       



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