APRIL ALBUM OF THE MONTH
This review is probably a reflection of the character, enterprise and engagement of a band that spans the duration of a pandemic – and concludes with a fine debut album. When I set up the rock caravan on the first day of the first lockdown, the terms of engagement were clear; this was going to be a new platform, an open space for bands that wanted air time to connect with music fans during an unprecedented time. Cry For Mercy was one of the bands that jumped in and made full use of this new space; a chance not only to raise their brand but, more important, also a time to be part of the listener’s conversation as everyone checked in and helped each other through the dark days of anxiety and uncertainty.
During these long months, the Cry For Mercy music settled in, naturally, and then the requests started coming in – and, again, quite naturally. The band featured on many of our monthly top 20 playlists during the summer and autumn months – and they stood tall for both our weekend summer festivals last year.
Beneath this level of human engagement, crucial at such a time, the subtext was that the music was also given room to breathe. With new bands, it’s not about playlist tweets, first plays or spot plays. Bands need an investment of time and space for their music to have a chance to really settle in over a number of weeks and months. This is what happened with us during the three lockdowns with Cry For Mercy. Their songs naturally became part of the week and, as the year ran, so the music evolved. The early singles were replaced by session sets, then the acoustic songs emerged and now there’s the new debut album. Each stage has been a step up on the previous material, the journey charting a band that has focused on the music-making during a pandemic – and has grown as a result.
This evolution is the context that frames what the band has achieved with this fine album. It’s the result of a journey, it’s a creative step-up and yet, somehow, it feels like an artistic statement from lockdown – the way rock n roll should sound after a year of darkness, pain and working within endless limitations.
A little birdie tells me Cry for Mercy might rather like Free and Bad Company. If you love the Paul Rodgers catalogue then you’ll like Cry For Mercy. The music has a very 70’s British rock blues feel in the classic tradition, yet the production and character makes the music feel like a product of its time. The world changed during the pandemic and the important music is the recorded material that, in its very personality, reflects this moment in time. There is edge, grit and directness throughout. Nothing synthetic, just the truth of a band playing; that sense of live performance we have all missed so much.
The vocals throughout veer between the soulful and the gravelly and I found the mix both warming and engaging. In places, the vocals reminded me of the first time I heard The Commitments soundtrack album as a kid. A good voice for its expressive soul/blues character – it’s life – rather than its technical purity.
‘Brother’ opens the album with immediate verve, pace and urgency. Very much a Paul Rodgers blues-rock vibe, the song nonetheless has a raw truth. ‘Roll The Dice’ is slower-paced but strong – and the opening trilogy concludes with ‘Resist;’ a song we played which generated positive and immediate listener feedback.
There is a long-standing fondness for rivers and waterways in the blues-rock narrative, and ‘Down To The River’ serves up a wonderfully soulful, acoustic vibe. Very classic, but rich and warm.
The centrepiece of the rocker ‘Healing’ is a great guitar solo, but the second half of the album, for me, delivers the standout tracks. With ‘Coldhearted’ I really liked the vocal, which rasped like Spike delivering a Quireboys classic, charged with blues expression. The vocal counterpoints marvellously with precision of the acoustic guitar work.
With ‘Born to Fly’ there’s good vocals again, but this is a song for the guitar, which literally flies, swoons and glides in this slower-paced blues number. Definitely one to enjoy with a large glass of red.
Into ‘Overdrive’ we have a rhythmically-charged classic rocker. A potential single here perhaps. And, as with many songs on this album, the drums have a depth and prominence which anchors the music well and helps give it more of a live performance feel.
The album finishes with a bang – an emotive helping of hard-rock intensity. ‘On And On’ is dramatic, loud and in-your-face. Its spirit captured how I felt during much of lockdown. Urgent, dark and somehow wanting to break free or rebel. There’s a bit of menace here, like there’s a looming dark cloud hanging over this song – and also a clear sense the band has possibly saved the best ‘til last.
After a year in the rock kitchen, this album is good music to cook too. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s familiar yet it engages; the songs will inspire a cheeky boogie shuffle now and then while chopping the onions, and they’ll invite you to smile and turn it up while you pour another glass of something nice. And for those family members walking through the kitchen looking for something, it’s music they’ll start humming to as they go about their business. Some albums are ones to listen to intently in the living room, others are ones that call you to the mosh pit. A kitchen album has its own space, and it’s a good space to be in.
In the time that I have been broadcasting and writing reviews, many of the grassroots bands we have chronicled have moved up to new levels, and gained the polish that comes with label muscle, bigger production and commercial allure. The temptation is always to keep reviewing these bands, but it is also important to stand back from this now and then – and to give someone starting out a kick of the ball. A band finding their way, crafting their identity and exploring their sound. This album from Cry For Mercy doesn’t reinvent rock n roll for a new era. There’s a raw directness – even at times a straightforwardness – to it, but this album captures a band creatively maturing and reaping the rewards of having focused on hard work and song-writing during lockdown. The vocal is distinctive, the guitar work luxuriant and the drums bring the muscle. Cry for Mercy have earned their moment in the spotlight and ‘Resist’ is a triumph of the dogged determination of the human spirit to create and move forward, to fight the pandemic and the endless threats and limitations it has imposed.
‘Resist’ is issued on 2nd April 2021.
Discover more about Cry For Mercy