On the website of the NaveBlues, one phrase strikes the reader, italicised dramatically: “The NaveBlues is not the blues you knew”. A cursory survey of the band’s background should reveal this. Norway’s cool fjords are a far cry from the steaming marshland of the Mississippi delta, but it is nevertheless this draughty panorama that spawned the band, who were already an aberration as a blues band in 2017.
However, their commitment to the role is laudable. All the old accoutrements of the blues are wheeled out here, from the squalling harmonica to the biting, caustic guitar lines to the female backing singer to the steady, rolling tempo of a train steaming down to New Orleans. Singer Nave Pundik whispers, moans and ad-libs barked instructions like some Nordic Muddy Waters, at one point on the excruciatingly named “Sexy Kiss” letting out a strangled yelp like a cat being slung down a well.
Despite the music’s reverential fidelity to the blues, there are hints of Lou Reed in Pundik’s muttered, street-hustler colloquialisms, and weirdly also echoes of Lawrence from Felt in the vocal phrasing of the NaveBlues’ cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You”, which spirals into a sugar-rush summoning of the Rolling Stones’ “Love is Strong”. Despite soon slipping into a nonchalant shuffle, “Say My Name” strongly evokes Talk Talk’s “Spirit of Eden” in the plangent, still-pond arpeggios that open the track, unearthing a leisurely softness in the NaveBlues’ sound.
The only other song that really explores this is “In A Quiet Place”, which engorges a jazzy piano reverie into acidic, moody guitar soloing and doleful vocals falling somewhere between Benjamin Clementine and John Lee Hooker. However, the album’s plucky charm is partially vandalised by the temptations of slick, modern production, barring the punchy hoedown rambunctiousness of “The Ghost Collector”. The blues breathes atmosphere and grit, but this rangy ardency here feels throttled by the cleanliness of the mix, and the complete lack of ambience of the recording space.
Although inevitably prefaced by the “not the blues you knew” disclaimer, the distance of the NaveBlues, chronologically more than geographically, from the juke joints of the American South is palpable. Times have changed, and simply smartening up the presentation of the same music does not guarantee interest. The album falls into the uncanny valley between the eccentric pep of Jack White’s modern blues experiments and the unkempt passion of earlier blues recordings, hemmed in both by antiseptic production and a love of the genre so vast as to dissuade tampering. Something raw and untamed has been lost, and not replaced by anything new. However, this is a likeably spirited effort, and the band’s adoration of the blues is evident from every note. It’s “not the blues you knew”, but it warrants a try. CO
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jt9uzozpzGQ