Allow me to open with the blurb that came with the Blazing Zoos' second studio album, Chocks Away. "The Blazing Zoos are a country band based in London, who have played and recorded sporadically since their unlikely debut at a beach festival in Albania in 2006." Now I'm no detective but that intro rings alarm bells for me. Recording sporadically can be explained away by the members being busy with life in general, but playing very little hangs a question mark over whether they're any good or not. Also, why is it that they had an 'unlikely debut'?
I was worried straight away by all of this, as that blurb is a little negative. Rest assured though, Chocks Away is not a bad release at all. In some ways it lacks a little but in others it more than makes up for it's shortcomings. Let's find out why.
For me there is one main sticking point with Chocks Away. That is the lead vocals being flat and uninspiring, which is a shame because the cow-punk melody base of the album is very appealing. Yes before anyone yells at the computer screen, we do hear 'rough-around-the-edges' vocals in many a country album, but I have to say that the lead pipes here are a little too ragged for my liking.
In terms of positives though, Chocks Away is chock-full of well produced and arranged country/rock tunes. With R.E.M. and The Smiths producer Mark Wallis at the helm, how could it not be? Set up as a four-piece the Blazing Zoos make solid use of the rockier sounds country music has to offer, from that drunken electric guitar plucking to the staggering boom-tcsh-boom-tcsh drum beat.
Anyone who has read my previous reviews will know that I'm a sucker for a pedal-steel guitar. Steel can be heard once or twice, employed subtly in "I Can't Lose (If I Don't Play)". "Brighter With Your Love" features some jaunty banjo, which is also a pleasure to hear as banjo can often go unnoticed in country records. Although it has to be said that the lead vocals of bassist Lara could do with a little more polish here. I hate complaining about singing on records because someone's voice is a very personal thing, but for some reason I can't shake the feeling that the vocals tend to be somewhat plain throughout Chocks Away.
In a world where country music is becoming trendy once more, it is becoming harder and harder to break through with material that is truly original and unique. Being a diverse genre ranging from country giant Johnny Cash, to alt-country Blitzen Trapper, you really need to come up with something innovative to set your band apart. Whilst Chocks Away feels very familiar, and in some ways quite middle-of-the-road, I get the impression they would still be fun to see live. The overall tone of Chocks Away is uplifting and at times it can be energetic as in the playfully self-deprecating lyrics of "Country Drinking Song".
If you're looking for an album that is easy to pick up and play, Chocks Away is certainly that album. On the other hand it is just as easy to put down again, being replaced by some of the new and exciting Americana music coming from the likes of Canada and the U.S.
|Dr Schwamp: Tunes, Tall Tales & Tinctures||Molotov Jukebox: Tropical Gypsy|
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