Monday, March 14, 2011

SANDI THOM: "Merchants & Thieves"

Rating: 7/10

Label: Guardian Angel Records 2011

Review by Alan Holloway

If I’m honest, this isn’t exactly a new album, but it is a re-release ‘Special Edition’ job that we never actually reviewed when it came out last year, so this is as good a time as any to investigate the up and down career of Sandi Thom.

Casual music listeners will know Sandi Thom for her brilliantly catchy pop anthem “I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker”, a big hit and a great song, if truth be told. The album wasn’t bad, either, but the disappointing follow up saw her leave Sony, a label who wanted a pop star but didn’t quite get one. With this, her third album, she has set up her own label, Guardian Angel Records, and there’s a feeling that what we have here might finally be the ‘real’ Sandi Thom - a soulful blues singer no less.

The fact that Joe Bonamassa guests on a few tracks should point potential listeners in the right direction, as this is a thoroughly bluesy album, although it’s mostly slower tracks rather than all out blues rock. Single “This Ol World” is very like the sort of thing Jeff Healy used to do, with Bonamassa laying down some cool blues guitar all over the place, as well as some vocals. This is about as lively as it gets, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as when she sings the slower tracks you really get to hear what Sandi Thom can do. For example, this edition contains a version of “House Of The Rising Sun”, which is the best I have ever heard, and twisting the lyrics to fit a female perspective changes the whole song round as well. There’s also a cover of Kenny Neal’s swamp blues classic “If Heartaches Were Nickels” (which Bonamassa has also covered), and again she manages to put so much into the vocals you can almost feel the pain.

Undoubtedly, this is Thom’s finest effort to date, with plenty of fire and passion almost overflowing at times. For a wee Scottish girl she sounds like she came straight from the deep South, stopping on the way to pick up a rucksack full of troubles and several shit boyfriends. When she treads water she’s still very listenable, and when she turns it on she’s dynamite. A very nice surprise this one, well worth checking out, especially if you like Joe Bonamassa.


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