Review of our CD, Sweet Freedom, by Merv Osborne, Blues Matters Magazine, UK
Vancouver has for a long time been recognised as a leading City in world music. There is a healthy music scene there and amongst that is a new Blues band by the name of Hells Gate. Comprising a number of veterans of the Vancouver scene, they have in their midst a real jewel on vocals, a lady who can really deliver on all fronts as a vocalist. Lisa Fennell, a teacher by day, has only been singing for three years, but my, what a voice the lady possesses. In a live setting I have witnessed her interpret an Etta James classic, and enjoy a standing ovation from a crowd who were mesmerised by her prowess. Sweet Freedom, a title reflecting on the society we enjoy today compared to the slavery the early Bluesmen enjoyed, is their debut album and what a peach it is. Covers include the classic Hound Dog, Clapton’s Outside Woman Blues, The Feeling Music Brings by Tedeschi Trucks and Bonnie Raitt’s The Road’s My Middle Name, but the real gems here are the songs written by Pete Selnar (the band’s harmonica player) and those by Fennell herself. The best of these are Fennell’s Mama Always Warned Me, a strutting Blues a la Koko Taylor, with the bottom end driving the song with Selnar’s harp ever present behind the mix. In the same mould is Waitin’ On A Man, again Fennell demonstrating her vocal range, one powerful singer. The band themselves are also extremely adept at what they are playing, creating an overall sound that is very up front without being invasive. Solos are creative without the presence of ego and attitude, everything adding towards the group ethos. I have enjoyed this album immensely, and have several favourite tracks, Down In Clarksdale by Pete Selnar, being a great rocking Blues telling the story of a visit to Clarksdale, another being Bruce McCabe’s Still Rainin’, a piano and guitar led story of upset at the loss of a love. I wish this band and particular Lisa every success in the future.
- MERV OSBORNE