British/Norwegian artist Krissy MATTHEWS is a seasoned performer, starting out as something of a prodigy in his early teens he has more than 1000 concerts and five studio albums to his name already, despite still being in his early 20’s. “Live at Freak Valley” is his first live album, and was released through UK label Proper Records in the spring of 2017.
Live albums are often a difficult challenge to anyone writing about music. What to focus on and why will often be a question, especially if it is a case of an artist you are unfamiliar with, but even if you are familiar with the artist certain challenges will arise. How much, or not, to compare with the studio versions of the tracks on the album the most obvious one.
As Matthews is an unknown entity to me from previous escapades, that latter doesn’t apply here obviously. But I think I’ll start with the performance itself. The most distinct aspect of this live album is that it is a raw, gritty and honest performance. I rather suspect few if any overdubs or treatments have been used here, this is the band pretty much as it sounded on this concert. Blues rock is the name of the game here, but a vital, powerful and raw take on the genre, with numerous breached into hard rock territories. At the most intense and dark with riffs not all that far removed from something Iommi might have produced way back when. This is also very much a guitar driven affair, with dominant riffs and elongated guitar solo runs being the stars of the show. As a live experience, I reckon this show was rather awesome.
As an album, without the sheer power of a live setting behind it, the impact isn’t as great. The songs, at least in these arrangements, just doesn’t manage to strike home with me. I’m generally fond of guitar driven music, so I cannot really pinpoint what may be lacking, apart from the obvious detail that the power and loudness experiences at a concert obviously won’t transfer well over to headphones or home stereo speakers.
Other than that I note that the band is tight, and the general performance holds a good quality throughout. The guitar solo runs comes across as perhaps a bit too bombastic and flamboyant form my taste, and Matthews as a vocalist is perhaps a bit too fond of using the vibrato, but this is a tight knit band and the overall performance doesn’t leave much to be missed – apart from rarely making an impact on me as a listener obviously. The one cut that did, of the eight recorded at Freak Valley, was ‘Searching the Desert for the Blues’. Which is a cover, from what I understand.
There are three additional tracks on this CD as well, recorded at another location. These tracks are a bit different. That the band is expanded from a power trio into a quartet with the addition of a keyboardist for starters, and the general sound of these tracks are different too. The first two songs blend in a liberal dose of Americana to a rather gentler take on blues rock, albeit lively and tension-filled, and then a concluding massive affair that opens as a delicate organ dominated affair that grows into quite the monster of a blues based, classic hard rock creation. In my view, the most memorable part of this CD are these bonus tracks, despite exploring a take on the blues rock on these tracks that I’m generally not as fond of as the more traditional power trio format.
The eyes, or rather the ears, of the beholder will ultimately decide whether or not this is a production that warrants a check. As a rough, general guideline I’d suspect that those who tend to enjoy powerful, raw and honest blues rock that is guitar driven, has a fairly flamboyant guitarist leading the band and often hones in on more of a hard rock take on blues rock would be the ones who would feel most at home with this live album.
My rating: 65/100
Feeling for the Blues, I’ve Been Searching, All Night Long, Searching the Desert for the Blues, Language by Injection, The Soul Will Never Die, Bad Boy, Freedom, Hit the Rock, Roadsick Blues, Bubbles and the Seven Phones