British rock veterans turn adversity on its head and win the day with a set of fantastic tunes.
Talk about bad luck here: an ensemble, who intermittently existed since 1983, get back to Abbey Road to lay down their second album only to see the sessions undercut by Covid-19 which would indispose a few players, so when the work resumed amidst restrictions, external performers had to get on board. Such circumstances might derail the spirit of lesser mortals than a rhythm-and-blues aficionado knowing all too well that otherwise there couldn’t be no luck at all – and this is why Al Ross persevered and came up trump, with “Blue Crystal” quite possibly the best record in his chosen genre to bear “2021” on its cover. It’s temperately short, to satisfy vinyl-length purists and remain chaff-free, and moderately sweet, to appeal to many a retro-romantic, yet it’s also graciously challenging.
The two audience categories can balk at the deceptive simplicity of the plea in “In The Middle Of The Night” that doesn’t bother with verbosity, preferring to concentrate on deep feelings and simmer instead, but the uplifting soulfulness of “Crossroads” which finds piano propel solemn momentum to spiritual swagger and provide the defiance with a piccolo flourish, Ross’ voice cutting the ivories, brass and choral sway like a hot knife through butter. The elegance on offer make deliberate Dylanisms which drive the honeyed “Something Changed My Mind” rather endearing, before a chain of ballads binds the listener and pours the delicious, sax-smeared “Faith” into their very psyche to prepare one for the tremulous wonder of the album’s title track, as Lyndon Connah’s organ and Norman Beaker’s guitars flesh out the piece’s orchestral space.
There’s even a trumpet-kissed bossa nova on display to render “All The Things We Started” arrestingly translucent until the catchy boogie of “Checkin’ Out The Vibe” tears down the tear-stained grandeur to unleash a footstompin’ rapture upon an attentive ear and let “Sweet Memories Of You” bring this emotional rollercoaster to a climactic close – with the help of Holly Petrie’s stratospheric vocals. Tough luck, then? No, a triumph.