Album Review of Eliza Neals: 10,000 Feet Below (E-H Records)
The “Detroit Diva” returns with this strong follow up to her critically-acclaimed album Breaking and Entering. That previous release made a bold transition from her bluesy soul and R&B rep to more of a harder blues/rock style. With 10,000 Feet Below, Eliza Neals continues on that path by honing an even more defined vision of her craft. She is aided by frequent collaborator and award-winning guitarist Howard Glazer. But really she’s got some of the best musicians from Detroit, New Jersey and Nashville throwing down on this no holds barred collection of original Neals-penned gems.
The album begins with an ode to a slick street-smart hustler named “Cleotus.” Right away, Neals and Glazer establish homage to the acoustic blues tradition with a simple but powerful pairing of soulful vocals and searing Dobro slide guitar. Neals delivers a tale that is compelling and chilling. “Another Lifetime” is currently blowing up on Sirius XM radio and for good reason. It’s a slow smoldering kind of blues that spins a yarn of lost love, again ignited by Glazer’s sensitive guitar licks. “Burn the Tent Down” is an incendiary mid-tempo rocker that has single written all over it. It’s a good time tune about southern barbecues and kicking that party vibe loose. Here Neals employs some of her considerable vocal skills as her multiple backups weave in and out in a most effective way. The title track “10,000 Feet Below” begins with Neals bellowing “Just got back from hell.” And then it’s all fire and brimstone from there! She has a way of really connecting words and feelings. You really feel her passion, which is further supported by her subtle piano stylings and Glazer’s tasteful electric fills. “You Ain’t My Dog No More” is kind of gimmicky but works in a novel sort of way. It’s just a fun Muddy Waters-like romp where Neals scolds her man for not treating her right; “No more treats”… indeed!
At this juncture the “Detroit Diva” takes a break and delves into ballad territory with a sweet tune called “Cold Cold Night.” This features Paul Nelson on lead acoustic guitar. The song has a Stevie Nicks/Ellen McIllwaine sensibility to it. Neals can do a lot of amazing things with her voice, and this tune is a prime example of her melodic depth and range. That’s followed by the album’s sole cover tune in Skip James’ haunting “Hard Killing Floor.” The trio of Neals on keyboards, Glazer’s howling fills and drummer Demarcus Sumter’s spare accompaniment is meditative and riveting. “Call Me Moonshine” is another traditional sounding I-IV-V blues shaker that creeps along via Glazer’s sly turnarounds and Neal’s velvety Hammond B3 work. “Downhill on a Rocket” follows and is kind of a dark minor piece. The swampy New Orleans feel is further proffered by Neals’ line “Voodoo woman with a cross in her hand.” When she sings stuff like that it’s not just some line-reading off a corny script. She means business! The album concludes with another straight-ahead country blues track, “Merle Dixon,” and an atmospheric duet with legendary guitarist Billy Davis called “At the Crossroads.” Davis cut his teeth with classic artists like Jackie Wilson and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. He brings that veteran Motor City poise and mojo for a performance that appropriately puts the cap on this essential set of tunes.
Eliza Neals and her various musical co-horts she affectionately dubs “The Narcotics” (duly named because “they are dope!”) have done it again. Her hot and sultry brand of blues is for real, with enough radio-ready punch and songwriting savvy to break through modern media platforms in a big way. Look out!