We had Erykah Badu and Jill Scott leading the neo-soul revolution in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Marillion and Fish carried the neo-prog-rock torch in the 1980s. Even The Killers and The Strokes landed the whole neo-rock tag briefly when they first burst onto the scene about a decade ago.
But what about neo-blues? Such has rarely if ever been discussed in the mainstream, outside the occasional Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Johnny Lang conversation. But even then, its hard to classify both guitarists as anything other than traditional (and thats not such a bad thing, either both are fine players in their own right). The reality is that true blues music cant bend much. Its not like jazz, which constantly reinvents itself and expands its boundaries every few years. Blues music is so rooted in raw emotion, repetition and grooves, its nearly impossible to add a prefix and claim a new form of it.
That said, if there was ever a release that called for the label, its hard not to think that Gettysburgs The Static Trees wouldnt be one of the forbearers of the niche. Their latest effort, last years Necessary Risks, is a smorgasbord of the poppier side of blues music, combining the gritty growl of Dylan Whitlow and the hard-edged, grown-woman voice of Nikki Barber with a kind of sound rooted in sly guitars and heartfelt lyrics, suggesting that the notion of neo-blues might be something the two artists should explore trademarking in the near future.
The closest the duo gets to a traditional style of the medium comes on album opener Come On. From the very first line of the EP Whitlows rusty voice proclaiming Come on/ Baby, wont you come with me it shouldnt be lost on even the most ignorant of listeners how much the blues has influenced these two. A wicked electric guitar presses on behind a boogie groove and despite the burying of Barbers backing vocals, The Static Trees never again end up sounding as full on the album as they do here.
I Wanna Give You Chills, meanwhile, proves to be a double-edged sword as the slide guitar illustrates how versatile their form of blues can be, though the simplistic sentiment of the tracks words ends up being the closest Whitlow and Barber get to cheesy.
Combined with Hello Sunshine, they make up the two songs that suffer the most from a lean into pop rock that neednt be necessary on such a spaceless release. Or in other words, if you get only six songs to make an impression, and its clear that your forte is laced with bluesy influence, why spend two tracks veering away from what you do best?
Speaking of what The Static Trees do best, Pearly Gates and The Road are two instances in which the duos style comes together perfectly. The former features Whitlows best impression of Jets Nic Chester as his harmonic screech brings an element of rock that had otherwise been missing. The latter, while a bit scatterbrained, highlights Barbers best take on a Sass-Jordanmeets- Grace-Potter rock vocal and a bouncy tempo that will stick in your head for days.
Actually, it wouldnt be surprising if a lot of Necessary Risks ends up staying in your head for weeks after taking a few days to give it a concentrated listen. The bands knack for accessibility sets them apart from almost all other pop blues acts if only for how fearless this six-song EP constantly feels. Sure, it doesnt all work, and yes, there are even a few moments here that seem overbearing and embarrassing. But those few failures dont overshadow how much potential this duo suggests.
Call it neo-blues. Call it pop rock.
Call it blues rock. Call it neo-blues-pop- rock. Call it whatever you want. It doesnt really matter, as long as these guys keep evolving at such a strikingly competent pace. Dont worry, baby well keep coming with you. Just be sure to bring that unique style wherever we go.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***