On a recent road trip that saw Team GDW once again heading north to catch a live show in Southern Ontario, L took charge of the DJ duties and was incredibly eager to share some new tunes with me that she had just heard for a the first time. When I naturally asked which artist had made their way to the upper echelons of the current listening pleasures, she introduced me to a Toronto based acoustic soul ensemble by the name of Black Suit Devil. Always happy to hear new music, the strength of this debut full-length album grabbed my attention the moment I heard the first vocal line delivered by singer/songwriter Andy Du Rego.
With his atmospheric, if somewhat raspy, vocal delivery, Du Rego is difficult to ignore. Add in some great lyrics and great musical arrangements (kudos to the soothing violin offered by Neil Cameron), and you are rewarded with nine tracks that hold your attention from the opening note to the closing call. Don’t just take my word for it – go ahead and immerse yourself into the slow melodic instrumentation that precedes the opening track “Blind Man.” Part Latin, part blues, the opening acoustic guitar and roll of the piano keys lead you to that aforementioned violin and the gradual emergence of Du Rego’s distinct vocals. This opening number in particular has a wonderful additional dimension, thanks to the bluesy harmonies provided by Jules Cardoso, whose sound draws instant comparisons to the likes of Melissa Etheridge and Stevie Nicks.
Progressing to the second track, “Fumble,” the simple acoustic guitar returns to introduce the song, albeit with a much traditional folk-rock sound to set the tone. And from his opening lines, Du Rego offers me instant comparisons to the folk-roots elements of the likes of early Fogerty, Springsteen and even Young. With his raw, emotional delivery and outpouring of his soul during “Fumble,” Du Rego demonstrates that he is worthy of being named in such good company. As “Fumble” fades, we not only welcome “Dreams,” but notice the vocals being a little more dominant, with some drawn out, bellowing lines that have a distinct rockier edge reminiscent to those earlier sounds from Jon Bon Jovi, White Lion and John Mellencamp. My intention here is to not simply find comparisons with his musical peers, but to articulate similar sounding musical influences from my past that Du Rego is conjuring up with this modern take on the classic slow-rock number.
And if I am leading you to believe that the track progression is pretty formulaic thus far, go ahead and quash those ideas at this time too. If the up-tempo introduction to “Carry On” is not enough to convince you of a vast change of direction here, there is no denying that the vocals that follow mirror the sound and style of a well-known Creedence Clearwater Revival favorite. That is, at least, up until around the two minute mark, upon which a temporary stoppage yields to some slower, soulful vocals, perfectly rounded out with the return of that gentle violin. As the tempo progresses through peaks and valleys during “Carry On,” it becomes abundantly clear that Black Suit Devil have no fears opting to not conform to ‘radio-friendly’ track times. Only three of the nine numbers on this album clock in under five minutes in length, while others venture into almost Pink Floyd seven minute+ territory. On paper, with just nine tracks, this is a short album. When factoring in the average track time, these nine tracks will most likely take up most of the available space offered by a conventional compact disc. And there are no complaints here. Both Du Rego and the supporting musicians possess a natural ability to play through each track with ease – not an easy task as audiences often want quick gratification – whilst never once appearing repetitive.
Working into the latter parts of the album, we encounter some wonderful choices in additional instrumentation that really awaken the senses. With both “Devils and Dollar Signs” and “Shackled,” the acoustic soul is paired with some wonderful pipe music and percussion that once again returns the slightly Latin (even Old West) feel that was offered during the opening of “Blind Man.” Also returning from “Blind Man” is that distinct blues guitar, which resurfaces in “Bullets,” before giving way to a wonderful combination of violin and piano (almost a ragtime feel to the piano) that perfectly complement the gravel-laden lyrics from Du Rego.
Heading into the closing track “The Machine,” (clocking in at 7:11 run time), the gentle guitar shares a momentary spotlight with some haunting fiddle and church bells (hints of Metallica’s ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ springs to mind). Opting for some well-placed hand percussion and violin to accompany the verses, we once again welcome a change in tempo at the 2:55 mark; eerily similar to “Carry On.” Violin and piano once again dominate from hereon, before those church bells signal the return of Du Rego for one final verse, and his closing statement of being “just slaves trapped inside the machine.”
With the quality of the sound from “The Freedom Sessions,” I was very surprised to learn that this apparent ‘live recording’ was indeed an incredibly well-polished studio production. Any artist that has the talent to accomplish such a feat deserves to be heard, and having spent some time with this album, I strongly encourage anybody who loves the sound and feel of a live show to go ahead and give this one a whirl. Black Suit Devil may just surprise you and exceed your expectations with this fantastic debut.