.Blues Lawyer: Pure pop from the years of the pandemic

Blues Lawyer’s third record, All in Good Time, was put together during the pandemic lockdown. Rob Miller, the band’s primary songwriter, said Covid forced the band to rethink their creative process.

“I wanted to write songs, but was unsure how to do it. We were used to getting together to work on music together. I might come in with a song I’m writing, in primitive form, and show it to the rest of the band—bass player Alejandra Alcala, lead guitarist Ellen Matthews, and drummer and vocalist Elyse Schrock. Elyse would decide on the rhythm and plan out her harmony vocals. Then we’d decide who was going to sing lead on it, her or me. Since we couldn’t rehearse, I started making demos with everything planned out. I’d send Elyse recordings with ideas for guitar parts, a bass line and programmed drums. She’d respond like an editor, with ways the songs could be arranged and improved. We’d present the reconfiguration to Ellen, for her input. I wrote the guitar parts with her in mind, even before she’d joined the band. Our original guitar player, Nic Russo, was making a record with his group, Dick Stusso. We needed someone with the time and energy to commit to this project. When she heard the demos, Ellen agreed to sign up and make this record. Her interpretations of the parts I wrote, coupled with her own ideas and unique playing style, elevated the songs beyond anything I imagined.”

When the band was ready to record, they headed over to Santo Studio to work with Andrew Oswald, the producer who helmed their first two albums. “He’s a gifted engineer and good at capturing a group’s natural sound,” Miller said. “He helped us take stock of all the resources available to us in the studio. He knew how to get a DIY band like us to move toward a thoughtfully produced recording. Some bands are hesitant to take advantage of everything available in the studio. He’s able to guide us through, in a way that preserves our identity and our vision for the album. We were all safely spread apart, but the feeling was cathartic. We’d spent all this time isolated from the human part of playing music. It was the first time we heard songs that had only existed in headphones before, screaming at us in three-dimensional sound. We cut 12 songs in three days. It was intense.”

The band’s fervor is evident on every track of All in Good Time. A soft ambient hum of guitar feedback opens “Chance Encounters,” before the band jumps in to rock out. Miller’s distressed tenor describes a disintegrating love affair, with Schrock’s wordless, sighing harmonies highlighting the lyric. Schrock sings lead on “Return Policy,” a punky R&B tune with a stop-and-start groove. It’s another song of misplaced affection, with her vocal expressing the confusion generated by the abrupt end of a relationship. “Nowhere To Go” is a brief jolt of power pop energy that explores the pitfalls facing a generation that looks for connection on social media. Miller’s edgy vocal describes the tension between truth and fabrication one faces trying to connect with strangers online. The bright, uplifting melodies combine with unflinching glimpses into modern romance, as it’s experienced in the real world. The album will be released later this year. 

Miller said the band name is an ironic reference to a certain kind of amateur musician. “When I worked at the Starving Musician Guitar Store in Berkeley, we had an inside joke to refer to the kind of clientele who bought expensive guitars to show off in their man caves. Weekend warrior guys. We called them Blues Lawyers. They’d buy a vintage Gibson Les Paul for $5,000. No working musician is going to spend that much on a guitar. My car didn’t even cost that much. When I started the band with Elyse, it was going to be a throwaway side project that would exist for a few shows, between the things we were doing in other bands. If I knew we were going to become a real band and make three records, I would have used something else, but here we are.”  

Blues Lawyer will be performing the first night of the Oakland Weekender Festival, Thursday, June 23 at the Golden Bull, 412 14th St, Oakland. More information at goldenbullbar.com. They will also play the Ivy Room in Albany on July 6 and the Stork Club in Oakland on Saturday, July 29. Information: theivyroom.com and theestorkclub.com. 

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