Review & Interview by Cameron Arndt, promo pics © Gerry Jablonski Band,
Live pics © Stuart Stott, taken at Edinburgh Voodoo Rooms, April 2017
We have a listen to the Gerry Jablonski Band’s new single – with an exclusive interview with the group’s harmonica specialist Peter Narojczyk further down the page.
In an era where ‘the single’ has been devalued to the point of being an excuse for a free download, the herald of a new video or simply a blatant plea for more streams, it’s great to see a band grasping an opportunity, putting some thought in, and creating something cool for their fans.
That’s exactly what Gerry Jablonski and The Electric Band decided to do when presented with the prospect of recording with Grammy winning producer Stacy Parrish at his studio in Sweden. Parrish has worked with numerous acts from Randy Newman to Elvis Costello, T Bone Burnett to John Mellancamp. Most notably he worked on the ultra-successful Raising Sand album from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
Clearly a great opportunity for the Aberdeen based four piece, and one they seized on. A short but fruitful session in Sweden has resulted in Heavy Water, an honest-to-goodness single in the old style: A great track, available on CD, with an actual B-side, some cool artwork and (soon) a snazzy video, hometown single launch and accompanying tour dates.
It’s a nice change of pace, as a reviewer, to be handed an actual CD to listen to these days and, as mentioned above, Heavy Water certainly looks the part with the cover art featuring a roaring tidal wave crashing into a canyon-like city street.
The track has opened most, if not all, of the band’s shows in the past year and it seems a perfect choice for this project, encapsulating as it does many of their signature elements, with a couple of changes of pace allowing them to both showcase their command of dynamics and display a range of moods in a powerful four minute package.
The song opens quietly, with some tasteful guitar notes by frontman Gerry, accompanying himself as he chimes in with the opening lines: ‘Red sky above me, cool water down below, I’m up here on the roof and I got no place to go,’ The band’s not-so-secret weapon, Polish harmonica wizard Peter Narojczyk, heightens the thick, moody ambiance with some wailing harp notes.
The pace is stepped up as drummer Lewis Fraser provides thudding kick and Grigor Leslie chimes in with pulsing bass notes. Already you can tell that Parrish has really captured the nuances of the band’s sound, not only does everything sound crisp and fresh, but there’s a distinct feel of the energy you’ll find from the group live.
The lyrics are a nice nod to the band’s blues roots, ‘The river it has broken, swirling like a snake, what once was a treehouse, now a muddy lake.’ Images of flooding and disaster are painted, in the grand tradition of classic cuts such as Charley Patton’s High Water Everywhere and When The Levee Breaks (originally by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie but famously nailed, of course, by Led Zeppelin). Jablonski tackles the ‘Heavy, heavy water’ refrain with typical rough-and-ready enthusiasm, backed by high harmony vocals from Fraser.
There’s a tremendous jump in intensity as the song suddenly kicks in to a crushing guitar riff, but nothing is lost even as the track gets heavier and heavier. There’s some excellent subtleties in amongst the commotion, from the floating harmonica to the great hi-hat work by Fraser in the verse, captured with crystal clarity by Parrish.
The song surges onwards, building to a thrilling peak with a storm of undulating guitar and blues harp that crash over the listener, evoking nothing so much as that awesome, terrifying wave on the front cover.
The single is backed by Soul Sister – a somewhat less intricate number that is perhaps just a little muddier in sound, lacking some of the opener’s sparkling grandeur. That being said, it’s a very different song from Heavy Water, with a more commercial, even pop feel to it. The chorus has an instantly memorable hook and Jablonski sings the tribute to the band’s soul icons with wit, respect, and a hint of cheeky glee.
The other three, naturally, back him up once more with vital characteristic fervour – Fraser and Leslie keeping things just tight enough while remaining loose enough to groove while Narojczyk layers on pyrotechnic harmonica. Jablonski really cuts loose on the solo this time, with a jaw dropping, jittering, scorching lead, showcasing the skills that make him such a livewire performer onstage.
The Heavy Water single is out now. Buy the track here: Amazon: http://amzn.to/2nHyl8Z, itunes: https://apple.co/2E3KKz6. Check out the video just below this paragraph, then scroll on down for the interview with Peter Narojczyk.
We caught up with The Electric Band’s harmonica player Peter Narojczyk ahead of this Sunday’s release of the single to discuss how
How did the opportunity to record with Stacy Parrish come about?
He spotted us when we played at the legendary Troubadour club in London. He loved our set and offered us a session at his studio. We were completely unaware that he was a Grammy award winning producer. I’ll never forget what he said to us “I loved the raw energy of the band…it was like you walked in the place, played a rollercoaster of a show, spat on the floor and walked out again!”
What was the experience of recording at his studio like?
The studio is at his home in Sweden – it’s called Stable 21. He had so many vintage amps and guitars, we felt like kids in the candy store. Great vibe and you simply felt the magic of the place straight away. He was using some cool gear too – one of the microphones was from James Cameon’s movie Titanic…hope we will do better then the boat, ha ha!
How did it compare to previous studio work you’ve done?
We’ve never worked with a professional producer in the past so it was new to us. Working with Stacy was so inspirational – it’s like having another band member, although he didn’t play any instrument. He directed us but also let us do our own thing. I remember that we played Heavy Water to him for the first time and after one listen he knew more about the song than us…he knew straight away what needed to be done etc.
Did you learn anything, pick up any methods that you think you might use again in future?
Slow everything down, ha ha! We definitely learned a lot from him in terms of how to catch certain triggers in the songs and how to concentrate on them – it’s just easy to play the tune the way you do it live and think that’s the only and right way to do it, but if you listen to it back and analyse it you can definitely improve.
Why did you choose Heavy Water as the single?
We chose Heavy Water for a couple of reasons. We felt like it’s simply a good song with great lyrics by Gerry, and it worked well on the shows. Then when Stacy saw us live for the first time he specifically asked for that song, he also heard something there so that was a hint – it works.
Was it always the plan to record two songs, and why did you pick Soul Sister as the b-side?
Yes. As we planned releasing a single we thought about the fans but we also wanted to have a great promotional tool. We wanted to show both sides of the band, we can go really dark and moody – Heavy Water – but we also have the capability of writing and performing more melodic songs which would appeal to, let’s say a wider audience – Soul Sister. I thing although it’s only two songs the single really sums up what the band are.
Are you pleased with the outcome? How do you feel the songs compare with your previous recorded output?
We are very pleased with the outcome and, as with every single release, you always feel like it’s your best work to date… and that’s how we feel right now!
The teaser for the Heavy Water video looks very cool. What was the idea behind the video?
As far as the video goes we wanted to get away from a very common trend with the bands these days where you can actually see the band playing in front of you. We wanted to make more of a story based video. Our friend Scott Murray put together a great animation that follows the story – it’s fairly dark and dramatic, same as the tune. I think it engages the listener – not only to the music, but it also switches attention to the lyrics which are as important, if not more so.
What’s next for the band?
Well the release of the single is this Sunday (4th Feb) and then we are on the road for pretty much the rest of the year playing shows and festivals in UK and Europe – not much of a change here I guess! We are also planning a release of a live show we played last year. The recording turned out to be really good so we decided to put it out – but that’s all I can say at the moment…
The Heavy Water/Soul Sister single is released on February 4th, get more info on the links below.