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CHANTEL McGREGOR Like No Other (2011)
www.chantelmcgregor.com

Chantel McGregor

Chantel McGregor has been the little darling of the blues rock festival circuit in the UK for the past couple of years but with no album to her name.

All is corrected with her debut but the revelation is that she is not necessarily a blues rocker. The casual rock fan will find much to like here. Here at GRTR! we are already serious converts and long-time champions thanks to Mark Taylor and Noel Buckley, and of course Features Editor Pete Feenstra.

The opener 'Fabulous' is uncharacteristic too : a dance beat underpinning a good time lyric and highly infectious: almost Kylie meets Kiss. With her bass player Livingstone Brown (one time Robin Trower henchman) who has produced and mixed this offering, Chantel is also in some excellent musical company.

There is fragility in her songwriting and in her vocal style, which is highly appealing - this may have something to do with her young age but it bodes well also for the future.

This album is timely because there is a lot of interest in female fronted blues rock and it's also getting a more crowded field with Joanne Shaw Taylor leading the way.

But where Chantel can steal a march is by broadening her appeal to a non-blues based audience. Beer-bellied festival goers will love her of course but I have to say there is more to life than appealing to those old enough to be her Dad, or even grandad.

In this context the standout track is 'Like No Other', the song has a great chorus and harmonies from Chantel herself. You'll be humming it for a while after your first listen before the inevitable album re-visit. Ditto 'Freefalling' which introduces string harmonies and 'Screams Everlasting' highlights a fine acoustic and vocal performance.

Perhaps surprisingly Chantel's guitar playing (it's caught the attention of contemporaries such as Bonamassa and her idol Ritchie Kotzen) is fairly restrained throughout. But this isn't a bad thing and shows a maturity, especially for a debut. The girl has been getting good advice.

 

Chantel McGregor gives us the inside story ...


The album was a strange writing process, some of the songs were co-written a while ago and some were my songs that were very new.

I worked in the studio with some amazing session players, and the tracks came together extremely quickly, we literally did all of the drums in 4 days, most of the bass at the same time, and then did another 4 days on my guitars and vocals with 4 more days to add strings, keyboards, mix and master.

I had a concept in mind for the album, to make a CD that's listenable to over and over again, without getting 'guitar-d out'.

It sounds silly considering that I'm known mainly for the guitar, but I've got too many guitarist albums in my collection that I've listened to once when I bought them, and then they never see the light of day again.

Because I'm a bit 'guitar-d out' by them I end up going back to my trusty John Mayer collection to hear a good balance of great guitar playing, and fantastic songwriting (maybe I've got a short attention span).

So my concept was to make every song different, different in style and genre and just generally make it interesting.

Fabulous, my 'dancing around the room, getting ready to go out on a Friday night' song was a really weird writing experience. I'd been struggling with writing for a while and then all of a sudden last October, in the space of 3 days, I wrote the music for Fabulous, and the whole songs Caught Out and Like No Other.

Then I felt stuck again on the lyrics and melody for Fabulous, so I gave up on it, listened again to it a few weeks later, and all of a sudden I'd written the rest of the song, so that was that one finished too!

So, Fabulous is very commercial sounding, it wouldn't be out of place on a Lady Gaga album, which was intentional as I think music should be current and even though that style isn't what I'm known for, I still enjoy playing it and listening to it.

I'm No Good For You was written for the Paul Jones Show on BBC Radio 2. I was asked to do a Maida Vale session for the show and I hadn't any bluesy originals, so that's what I wrote! I wanted it to sound swampy and quite scary, or should I say atmospheric lol!

Like No Other, as mentioned before, came really quickly. I was sat at Pontin's after doing a festival, and I was listening to Aynsley Lister. He played a song that was full of feeling, and the lyrics for Like No Other just popped into my head, so I wrote them there and then on my phone, got home and wrote the music, put them together, and it was a song within about half an hour.

It's funny, I look back at the lyrics on my phone and they've hardly changed. I wanted this one to sound like a proper song, a real songwriters song, where the production focused on the song rather than the guitars or anything else. I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac and John Mayer to understand how they use production to 'bring out' the song and I think it worked.

Freefalling was written a while ago with a fab musician called Stuart O'Hanlon and an amazing keys player/producer, Chris Bucknall. We worked on that song a long time ago and I revisited it about a year and a half ago to put it into the live set, added some riffs and some proggy bits, and made it heavier. I really like the album version, the strings and manic drums just sound fab.

Rhiannon, a Fleetwood Mac Cover. This song came about as a bit of a 'Chantel trying something out on a gig - will it work or fall on its b*m'.

I was playing a gig in Grimsby, I'd already done 2 encores and everyone still wanted more, so I thought I'd do something a bit different to keep it interesting. I'd loved the song Rhiannon since I was a baby, I kind of worked out the chords on stage and went for it.

It was the best song of the night and I thought 'I have to record it', so it made the album.

I didn't want to do a straight cover, there's no point in that, you might as well just listen to the original, so I decided to strip it right back to acoustic guitar, vocals and a cello. I brought in an amazing cellist, Jocasta Whippy, she's done a lot of pop stuff for TV and she's great.

Caught Out, originally called the DILLIGAF song. Someone wrote some awful things about me on a forum (basically, they created a new forum identity with the purpose of, well, suffice to say, I suspect an ulterior motive).

Initially I was seething, so I wrote the lyrics, then I calmed down a bit after seeing the DILLIGAF video on Youtube (if you're ever having a bad day - it will make you feel so much better - PG song though), and it was one of the songs that I wrote in those 3 days, I must have been inspired.

When I went into the studio, the producer, Livi, and I discussed it and wanted a real eastern feel to it with sitar and strings. We also felt that the lyrics could be a bit snappier and edgey, so I tweeked those.

It's one of my favourite songs to play live, it's a bit edgey and cheeky, great fun!

Daydream is a cover of a brilliant Robin Trower song. I've had this one in my live set for a long time, and I love it because I can improvise and experiment with it.

It seemed an obvious song to put on the album because everyone had asked me to and the session musicians were Robin's Bass player/producer (Livi Brown) and drummer (Chris Taggart), so I knew it would be something special. It lasts 13 minutes and it's really the only guitar 'wig out' on the album.

Cat Song was another impromptu track, I was sound checking my acoustic guitar at a gig a while back and I just started playing this fast, riff based improvised thing, and someone asked me what it was called, so I named it Fluffy, Sprinkles, Lucky, Bonnie (the names of our kittens at the time), and it was a bit of a mouthful, so I re-named it Cat Song. It's just a short acoustic instrumental, a very fun song to play.

Screams Everlasting, another track written a while ago with Chris Bucknall, originally it was a piano & vocal song with the guitar break at the end, however when we recorded it for the album, I wanted to be able to re-create it live, so I used an acoustic guitar for the main song, with a keys pad underneath it to give it a Peter Gabriel feel. It's a very emotional song, it makes a lot of people cry!

Happy Song, well it does what it says on the tin really. Another song from a while ago, originally it was quite an acoustic, commercial song, so I decided to rock it up a bit and put some distorted guitars on it to give it a bit more 'umfffph'.

Not Here With Me was written a while back, the day it was written had been really long and it had been a real struggle to get a song.

So at the end of the day I was just twiddling about on the acoustic and Not Here With Me came out, I just brainstormed some lyrics, and the song was written within about 15 minutes.

Again, I wanted to keep it simple, so I just had acoustic guitar, vocals and cello. I wanted a pure, innocent and emotional song.

Help Me has been in my set for a long time, I keep re-doing it with added riffs and things to keep it exciting. It has always gone down well in my set, so I decided to put it on the album, it was produced to be quite bluesy and swampy, but also prog influenced.

Anyone who has seen Chantel live will know that she puts her own twist on other people's songs and here we get an attractive acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac's 'Rhiannon' (enhanced by Jocasta Whippy's cello) and a 14-minute take on Robin Trower's 'Daydream'.

Whilst this makes for a rounded album I cannot help thinking more of her own songs would have been more interesting but I suppose it does reflect a sort of audience expectation and I've no doubt these songs are personal favourites of Chantel's. The other cover Sonny Boy Williamson's 'Help Me' rounds off the album in blues style but in truth it does seem less essential in the context of a more widely focused album.

Elsewhere 'Caught Out' has more of a foxy lyric and attitude that hopefully will develop in the future and anyone who writes an instrumental called 'Cat Song' has my vote.

'Happy Song', another co-write with Chris Bucknall (ex-Climax Blues Band), is another surprise, more mainstream and radio friendly, whilst 'Not Here With Me' is more acoustic guitar with those attractive cello harmonies.

The good thing about this album is that Chantel is just being herself, she's not trying to sound like anyone else with a view to catching a bandwagon and for that reason it is a triumph of taste and good judgement.

I think the trick now will be to tread a fine line so as not to upset those beer-bellied punters who have loyally supported her music at many a festival in the past few years whilst broadening her appeal.

For a debut that seemed a long time coming this is a remarkably mature piece of work and well worth the wait.

****

Review by David Randall

Special feature

Interview

Chantel is our Featured Artist in August 2011

Featured Artist 2011

 


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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