By, Tom Baldino
Eliza Neals is a veteran of the blues scene now living in Jersey City. A Detroit native, she has a long and storied history with Motown artists, most notably Barrett Strong, who wrote and sang the first 45 record I ever bought, “Money!” We met at the JSJBF International Blues Competition in 2019 and kept up on social media through the pandemic, but I hadn’t seen her until we met again at a Taj Mahal show last month. She gave me a copy of her latest CD and after multiple listens, I have to say, unquestionably, this is Eliza’s best effort to date.
The use of some of the great musicians she has worked with over the years, as well as her own mastery of the keyboards and her opera training in vocals, helped to ensure this would be a musical treat. The disc kicks off with “United We Stand,” an up-tempo number with that Bo Didley beat and some tasty slide work by Michael Puwal that frames those vocals on a subject that is on people’s minds these days, the deep divisions in many personal relationships as well as our country. “Queen of the Nile” has that swampy, sexy vibe that lets you know she is someone who is “badder to the bone” and not to be taken lightly. Highlighted by Lance Lopez’s smoking hot six string solo, this song begs for a reprise, which it gets in the finale, “Queen of the Nile ll.” The pandemic inspired “Lockdown Love” speaks to the universal problem of too much time and nowhere to go. Another great solo, this time by Michael Puwal, drives home the frustration. “King Kong” is a hard driving rocker that has Eliza longing for her strong lover, likened to that monster of the silver screen, who could only be tamed by Fay Wray’s touch. “Bucket of Tears” has Eliza lamenting all the tears she has shed over her lover. The ensemble playing captures the mood of the song and frames the longing in her voice. “Got A Gun” exposes her two-timing man and poses what doesn’t sound like an idle threat. The song is punctuated with some terrific keyboard fills, with drummer Tim Grogan keeping a military-like time. “Fueling Me Up” uses a host of automotive analogies to explain how her man makes her feel, with twin guitars driving home the point. “Heathen” has that country folk goin’ to church sound, drenched in keyboards with one of the most clever but disturbing word rhymes I can recall. The cheating lover is likened to a heathen who she wishes would stop breathing! Again, the band shows off their collective talents in service of the song, some great stuff. “Can’t Find My Way Home” is the one cover on the disc, my favorite Blind Faith track, written by Steve Winwood and was an inspired choice. Lance Lopez’s muscular soloing over Eliza’s vocals does this song justice—bravo!
In conclusion, this is a collection that belongs in every blues lover’s music library. It’s available on E-H Records and all platforms. Look for this JSJBF member to be involved in our 2023 plans.