I first saw the young blues guitarist Chantel McGregor at the Cambridge Rock Festival last summer, when she appeared low on the bill fronting a blues-rock power-trio, and simply blew everyone in the crowd away.
Her long-awaited debut album is not quite what I expected. While her talent as a virtuoso guitarist ought to be clear to anyone who’s seen her live, this album shows just as great a talent as a singer-songwriter. It’s hugely varied record; with nine original numbers and three covers, she doesn’t just do blues, but also does hard rock, delicate acoustic work, and some quite catchy pop-rock with choruses that get stuck in your head after a few listens.
The production is quite stripped down, giving her voice and guitar a lot of space. with subtle and sparing use of Hammond organ and cello to add additional instrumental colour. Some of her vocals remind me of Heather Findlay, with a similar natural warmth, beauty and earthiness. There’s certainly an Odin Dragonfly vibe with the acoustic numbers. The guitar playing, as expected, is fantastic too; enough spectacular pyrotechnics to satisfy any fan of great lead guitar, but like all truly great musicians, she also knows exactly when to rein it in and keep things simple.
Of the original numbers, the rocky “Free Falling” really deserves to be a hit single, and I love the angry “Caught Out”, a song for which I can definitely identify with the lyrics. The instrumental “Cat Song” is great fun too with slide guitar imitating the meowing of a cat. Another standout for me is “Screams Everlasting” which starts at as at atmospheric acoustic number and ends with a magnificent slow-burning electric solo. Two of the three covers are vehicles for extended guitar workouts, with the version of Robin Trower’s “Daydream” clocking in at not far short of fourteen minutes. But the third is a stunningly beautiful acoustic interpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon”.
This is an album which ought to have something for everyone who appreciates great music played by a real musician. It’s about as far from Simon Cowell’s karaoke factory is it’s possible to get.
It’s available direct from Chantelmcgregor.com.