June 6, 2017
Kaleo – A/B
I was watching a video of a chap cycling in Norway, in the sitting room, thinking that he had a very fine soundtrack accompanying his ride when Harry, my daughter’s boyfriend, appeared around the door and asked if I liked Kaleo? Kaleo were the Icelandic band playing electric blues rock on the video. Never heard of them!
Iceland has produced some fine popular music of late including Sigur Rós and Bjork. Granted, both are acquired tastes but nevertheless remarkable. Kaleo may shortly be seen as important. So who are these frozen Blues practitioners?
Starting in the west of Iceland in 2012. This four piece hangs off the singing and song writing of Jökull Júlíusson – a voice that is drenched in blues and can hold a melody beautifully with Sam Smith-esque falsetto and no little nod to Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. You may have heard them on adverts for Boots and Netflix and their relocation to Texas in 2015, as a base, meant that this album was recorded in Nashville, LA, Austin as well as sessions in London and Reykjarvik.
Released in 2016 we slide between authentic Delta blues to their more popular version of driving blues rock (“Hot Blood”, “Glass House”). However their signature sound comes with ‘No Good’ and the muscular Paul Rodgers style vocal fronts a wicked rumbling lead guitar and thumping drum. What a way to start the album! The electric lead guitar of Rubin Pollock is certainly a blues force and gives all the songs quite a soulful yet, on occasion, jagged edge.
“Broken Bones” begins with a 1930’s Alan Lomax inspired Press Gang chant. As the song develops again with that thumping bass drum accompaniment, it tells the story of a prisoner in chains looking to the Devil to set him free. “Way Down We Go” is more of the same, which is fine by me.
To add some variety they can mix it and the bright acoustic “Automobile” is a road song with mentions of San Diego, San Francisco and Mexico. Similarly the album closer, “I Can’t Go On Without You”, takes us out in a reflective mood and the beautiful love song showcases a terrific vocal.
It can be no coincidence that the polish and dynamics of an often multi layered sound comes from much of the production duties falling to Jacquire King. His cv includes Buddy Guy, Tom Waits, Kings Of Leon & The Editors. He has the feel and knows where to place the guitar in the mix for sure. Also it helps to be signed to the Warner owned Elektra label – an organisation with resources and clout to promote.
As a total package it is a triumph and note that it’ll eventually appear in the hippest of record collections.