THE title of Bondi Cigars' 20th anniversary album and its music confirm that the Sydneysiders can no longer be categorised as a straight-out blues band, if indeed they ever could. An orthodox blues album's lyrics would be likely to carry quotes from B.B. King or Muddy Waters rather than writers, philosophers, moralists and mythologists such as E.M. Forster, Montaigne, Cicero, Jean Rostand, Elbert Hubbard, Henry Ward Beecher and Joseph Campbell. Chief songwriter, singer and guitarist Shane Pacey has always laced his down-to-earth commentaries on life and love with poetic lines. There's scarcely a scintilla of blues cliche or a soupcon of standard bar-room potboiling on Universal Stew. Swathed in an alt-country-cum-gospel coating with pop sensibilities and a hint of reggae toastin' on the bridge, Joyful Sound sets an eclectic tone that the album readily fulfils. Additional evidence that this is no average blues band can be gleaned from the four-part vocal harmony that distinguishes Cradle of the Blues, a New Orleans-infested gumbo that would do justice to the Neville Brothers. Co-lead guitarist Eb Hale, bassman Al Britton and drummer Frank Corby also lend a hand on lead vocals. The last-named imbues the self-penned Stomping Ground and Pacey's Out Of My Head with a Dylanesque vocal veneer. Hale's velvety tones render a Motown feel to You Got What You Wanted, while his edgy vocals engender One Time Around with a sense of urgency. Britton injects Deeper Shade of Blue with Dr John gruffness. Pacey's chameleonic vocals run a gamut from cruisy R&B (Your Fine Frame) to country (Better Class of Fool), from the band's trademark funk blues (Slaughterman) to classic soul (Roosevelt Jamison's That's How Strong My Love Is ). The frontman's electric guitar work is as incisive as ever. Elsewhere, acoustic and fuzz guitar provide the requisite ambience. The interplay between Pacey and fellow southpaw Hale's guitars has been a salient feature of the Bondi Cigars hard-driving sound, and the duo swap lead and rhythm with elan throughout the band's 10th album.
The Australian, December 12 2009.