By Chris Wheatley
It’s not every day, nor even every decade, that the blues world gets churned up by a talented, spirited newcomer such as pianist and singer-songwriter Veronica Lewis. At the frighteningly young age of seventeen, she has already scooped a cabinet-full of awards, including “Blues Artist of The Year” at the Boston Music Awards. Lewis has also toured extensively, performing at packed venues and festivals across the country, featuring in the National Women In Blues Showcase, and opening for the likes of Roomful of Blues and Eric Gales.
You Ain’t Unlucky, her debut album, out February 19, 2021 on Blue Heart Records, gives us six Veronica Lewis originals and two covers, most of which showcase Lewis in a trio with drums and sax. “In difficult times, sometimes all you can control is how you look at things,” Lewis is quoted as saying. It’s a remarkably mature sentiment, the wisdom of which makes You Ain’t Unlucky a fascinating prospect.
Title track and opener “You Ain’t Unlucky” roars out of the traps, a rollicking jazz-inflected blues. Lewis’ piano invokes memories of rock greats such as Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis, thumping and groovy. It also swings with a great jazzy vibe, in the manner of Duke Ellington or Vince Guaraldi. “You Ain’t Unlucky” has an old-school 50s feel, swinging and crashing. Lewis’ voice growls and swaggers good-naturedly, expressive and rough-edged and charismatic. For a trio, the band certainly kicks up a storm. Lyrically, Lewis conjures up some great lines: “Think it’s bad every cherry has a pit, honey? Inside a pit is a whole ‘nother tree.” This is an astonishingly coherent and developed piece.
“Clarksdale Sun” is pure jump blues, swinging and swaying. Lewis really lets loose on the keys. Comparisons to the great Jerry Lee Lewis are justified. Percussive, muscular and mercurial, Lewis takes obvious delight in her chosen instrument, banging out slick waterfalls of notes. Once again you have to marvel at her vocal talents. She communicates an authority and experience far beyond her years. Some smoking sax and exuberant drums wrap this track in a fine bow.
The legendary Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” gets a fine re-working here, transformed into a slow, smoky blues full of thudding bass-notes and fiery right-hand playing. Lewis’ drawn out, passionate vocal delivery infuses the track with an explosive, kinetic energy. “Fool Me Twice,” a rampant barrel-house song, crackles and spits with power and verve. An extended instrumental run from Lewis is a highlight. The band switch gears from high to low nicely, alternately racing and gliding. Says Lewis of this album: “I imagined I only had one shot to lay it down…as if I walked into a recording studio somewhere back in time, like Sun or Stax, and the producer just pressed the record button and said ‘Ok, kid, let me hear what you’ve got.’” This commitment and assuredness lend a flaming vitality to every song on this record.
The too-often-overlooked Katie Webster’s “Whoo Whee Sweet Daddy” bounces and rolls with admirable drive. Lewis’ vamps, runs and incredible left-hand bass notes are something to savour. Those left-hand bass notes, you can be sure, come straight from the Jerry Lee playbook. It is to Veronica Lewis’ eternal credit that she matches that master for passionate delivery and innate sense of rhythm, while managing to craft her own, distinctive musical identity. Her high-end notes flow with an astounding lightness and an intuitive grasp of melody.
Even without taking into account how early we are into what will surely be a long and celebrated career, You Ain’t Unlucky delivers a masterful set of high-energy rocking blues, from an artist of prodigious talent. You owe it to yourself to check it out.
Watch “You Ain’t Unlucky”
Pre-order link for You Ain’t Unlucky
Veronica Lewis Online