Artist: Band: Blue Line Highway
Album: Life In a Minor Key
Label: Lost Cat Records
Technical Grade: 8/10
Commercial Value: 8/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: Deliver, Valentine, Everybody Knows
Blue Line Highway is one of my favorite kinds of acts - that which combines the adventure and musicianship of a good jam band with catchy songwriting sensibilities. Life In a Minor Key fits into the folk-rock genre, yet the music spirals and soars in ways that make me want to hear what this band might do in a live performance.
The opening track, “Deliver,” cast its spell on me right away, with it pulsing tribal/psychedelic gallop. Chief songwriter Melissa McKenna’s acoustic guitar propels the tune, while John Leedes’ electric lead guitar dances around the edges. And Julia Dooley’s lead vocal slides between husky and bright, reminding me of Chrissie Hynde.
The title track and “RiverCanyon” are both jazzy in a gypsy sort of way. The title song stretches into a high mountain/funk hybrid groove fueled by Leedes’ stinging picking. “RiverCanyon” is a bittersweet flamenco/folk mix. Keven Pittman adds subtle hand percussion to both.
“Annie” is a nifty folk/pop rocker: Dooley, McKenna, and Leedes’ harmonies wrap themselves around the rich western imagery of the lyric. The whole album is filled with fine singing; another noteworthy example is the sadly lovely “Valentine.” To my ears, "Valentine" is filled with potential as an adult alternative hit, even though it’s long by single standards.
“Bound” is a snaky number that reminds me of old, bluesy Fleetwood Mac meeting the late ‘70s pop Mac, right down to the tense guitar interplay at the end of this stretched-out song. The guitars also crackle (and the vocals are passionate) on the slightly sinister “Heart Around.”
“Fish Fry at the Firehouse,” written by Dooley, is a fun party blues shuffle. Leedes fires off a countrified solo, and then comes one of my favorite lyrics lately: “You’re trying to slow her down, put that thing in reverse/it’s like trying to slow the motion of the universe.” Leedes’ “Green Haze” is achingly pretty, occupying a very cool, eclectic space somewhere between country and soul music.
The CD winds to a close with “Everybody Knows,” which is at the same time punchy and laid-back, like the great California country rock of the ‘70s but with a vibrant modern beat. What a great way to end the album: Dooley’s vocal is knowing and sultry, and Leedes fires off one last deft solo.
On Life In a Minor Key, Blue Line Highway conjures up a lot of worthy influences, while forging a unique, clean sound. These are songs that bounce through my headphones and make me long for the setting of a summer festival.