Layla Zoe – The Lily.
Cable Car Records 2013.
11 tracks; 65 minutes.
This is Canadian singer/songwriter Layla Zoe’s seventh album and her second in collaboration with German guitarist Henrik Freischlader who plays a very significant part in this project as he plays guitar, bass and drums, adds backing vocals, wrote all the music for the original songs and produced the album. Apart from Layla’s vocals the only other person involved is organist Moritz Fuhrhop who is another member of Henrik’s band. The album was recorded in Germany and is issued on Henrik’s Cable Car Records label.
Nine of the songs here are Zoe/Freischlader compositions, the album being bookended by the two covers which may represent differing elements of Layla’s DNA. The opener is an acapella version of “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah”, a traditional gospel tune which one suspects is part of Layla’s early upbringing. The album closes with what may constitute another form of worship in Canada – a Neil Young cover! “Hey, Hey, My, My” is done well but suffers from almost two minutes of guitar feedback at the end – possibly in keeping with Neil’s live style but not the best way to close an album which is arguably more about the songs than anything else.
Layla has a strong voice which she uses to good effect on several of the songs here. She has a tendency to force her voice which can result in some strident passages, the worst example being on “Father” – a shame as this deeply personal slow blues has moving lyrics. Henrik can also suffer from overplaying and does so on “Father”, making the track fairly unpalatable. In contrast the equally long title track is beautifully played and sung and a fine example of how well Layla can use her voice in service to the song. “In Her Mother’s House” is a highlight with acoustic guitars and organ underpinning Layla’s voice which is well controlled. Henrik’s electric guitar flourishes enhance the song well and the overall result is a very attractive listen. “Gemini Heart” is one of the gentler songs here and both Layla’s world weary voice and Henrik’s subtle guitar playing work superbly.
Layla clearly grew up with plenty of rock and blues influences, as can be heard on “Green Eyed Lover” where she namechecks Peter Green (as she also does on “I Choose You”) and Gregg Allman as well as the lyrics from Lowell George’s “Willin’” (“Weed, whites, whiskey and wine”). The music here is more dramatic as Layla tells of the jealousy that can consume a relationship. Another strong track is the angry “They Lie” in which Layla rails against a society that is controlled by ruthless liars. Her voice delivers the chilling words with passion: “And they lie to you and to your children too. Soon they will own everything, and there’ll be no world to come home too”.
The upbeat rocker “Never Met A Man Like You” finds Layla bowled over by her new man: “I would crawl through the desert, baby on my hands and knees, just to feel the water of the Babylon sea”. It is a strong song lyrically but the histrionic guitar solo detracts from the overall effect. The tendency to excess is apparent on tracks like the chugging rocker “Why Are You So Afraid?” and “I Choose You” on which Henrik’s power chords introduce a song about redemption from an earlier life where things maybe did not go so well.
This is an interesting album with some very strong and personal songs. Layla clearly has a strong voice but it would be good to hear her recorded with a producer who reigns her in a little more vocally.