(5 / 5)
Canadian band Bywater Call are armed and dangerous. Their secret weapon is singer Meghan Parnell.
She’s got some pipes on her has Ms Parnell. Powerful and soulful, rocky and raunchy.
Their debut album is a self-titled, all originals, 10-track delight, with main focus on that impressive vocal talent.
The immediate comparisons I would guess many reviewers will make, in regards to Meghan’s voice, is Janis Joplin. Yes, she has that fire power, but for me Janis was Janis and Meghan is Meghan. A tad lazy to immediately mention JJ when writing about a ballsy, female rock or blues singer.
But there is a Joplin link: In 2019, Meghan collaborated with Joplin’s former musical director Bill King, including a recording of a cover of Faye Adams’ “Shake A Hand”, which was a radio “hit” played on 140 blues and jazz stations globally and national radio morning shows in Canada.
Bywater Call was formed by Meghan and guitarist Dave Barnes in 2017, with Bruce McCarthy on drums, Mike Meusel on bass and Alan Zemaitis on keyboards. A year later they added horns, with trumpeter Stephen Dyte and tenor sax’ man Julian Nalli.
In-demand for the festivals and venues around their home-base of Toronto, having made a name for themselves in the last three years, now succumbed to the constant requests for an album, from their growing fan-base.
The tracks mix it up across the blues, Southern soul, gospel, rock and a tight-as-a-duck’s-rear-end performance from the players – but a real “wow” performance from Meghan. Her innate phrasing is immaculate, chops finely honed after years of taking to the stage.
I would suspect her influences are many and varied, and not just female singers. But I’d bet there’s some gospel and blues legends in there such as Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bessie Smith, Etta James, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and almost certainly, Bonnie Raitt. But jazz musicians too such as Coltrane and Miles, maybe?
If you want to dip in to just one track to begin with, to find out pretty much all you need to know about this great singer and her gift, try track four, “Bring Me Down”. Added to her superb measured performance, the fabulous slide guitar licks from Dave Barnes are utterly spine tingling.
The straightforward production is solid as a rock from Darcy Yates and Renan Yildizdogan, and it’s an even listen for raw energy across the set. The songs written by Dave and Meghan, with contributions from the band and co-writers Joe Ernewein and Tom Juhas.
A slew of excellent female singers in the same ballpark as Meghan flashed up as I listened to this impressive record, such as fellow Canadian Angel Forrest, Bekka Bramlett, Dana Fuchs, Sari Schorr, Bonnie Raitt and early Elkie Brooks with the much under-rated band Vinegar Joe.
But the obvious comparison, and I think the closest as a fit, has got to be the great Susan Tedeschi, for sheer sweet soulfulness and the back of the throat growl that they both share.
So it is apt that Dave Barnes’ sublime slide playing is very reminiscent of the wonderful Derek Trucks, and of course, DT is Susan’s husband and they work together in the awesome Tedeschi Trucks Band.
That is one of the best bands on the planet. So for Meghan and Dave to be compared to Susan and Derek really is meant as a compliment, for sure.
Dave’s playing across this album is the icing on the cake. Like Mr Trucks, he is clearly influenced by music and sounds from The East, and that gives his work a mystical appeal.
The whole band lock in tight, but with the sparkling gems of Meghan’s vocals and Dave’s guitar contributions on show, this album is so damned self assured and pretty special.
The band played 35 shows across seven European countries between the start of January and the end of February 2020, and in May they are booked for shows in Germany and The Netherlands – which I assume will depend on the Corona Virus situation at the time.
With Prince Harry and his family’s recent controversial move to Canada, methinks there are now two Meghan’s to put that North American country on the global map. One of ‘em can really saaaaannng.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’