Hallelujah! British Blues has a new Queen!
I first saw Kaz Hawkins at the inaugural Belfast Skyline Festival a few years ago. Plonked in the middle of various Americana acts in the afternoon, and only accompanied by a pianist Ms. Hawkins bowled me over with her huge voice and even bigger personality. Before I got the chance to introduce myself she was whisked away to perform at another gig many miles away.
Subsequently I’ve tried to follow her career until recently when this album was released to much hoopla in the Blues community in London; then even more recently she was hotly tipped to win a competition run by Classic Blues magazine; but got beat by a whisker in the final.
The album opens with a trusty dose of Rhythm and Blues. Hallelujah Happy People sounds like it could easily become a signature tune for the larger than life Northern Irish singer. For what it’s worth I absolutely loved this foot-stomper until the final thirty seconds when she gets over excited and allows herself to get lost in a tangle of vocal gymnastics which must sound amazing in a live show; but doesn’t bare repeated listening on disc. I would still give the song 9/10, so it’s a minor flaw.
Kaz shows remarkable restraint on the rest of the album and especially on the the ballad I Saw a Man where she shows her tender side on a genuinely heartbreaking song about a man now fallen on hard times.
It took a while for the penny to drop about why this album sounded so different to every other Blues album I’ve heard this year; well all of the others have been singer-guitarists with the emphasis being on guitarist; yet here we have a Blues Singer fronting a talented band who know their role.
As well as having an amazing, lived in but loveable singing voice, Kaz can really turn a word with her song-writing. I particularly like the way Believe With Me is about ‘being a couple’ rather than the tiresome Believe IN Me I would normally hear.
The title song Get Ready! has everything but the kitchen sink thrown into the production and it sounds stunning; especially the riotous chorus of PEACE & LOVE that closes the song . Again I have to mention Hawkin’s song-writing ability as what could and probably is a simple ‘love song’ it may also be a metaphor for something much bigger and closer to home. Who knows?
While there may not be a ‘hit single’ here; there are a few tracks worthy of radio play and more than a couple must be show-stoppers when sung live – I’m thinking Can’t Afford Me and Drink With the Devil which are both good old fashioned Roadhouse sing alongs brought up to date; and the ‘effect’ Kaz gets on the latter, with her voice when she plays the Devil role is first-class.
Shake may owe it’s content to several older songs; but this is a rip-roaring, hip-wiggling Blues Belter worthy of Janis, Maggie Bell or even Ruby Murray and I don’t say that lightly.
Get Ready! Closes with two love songs of opposite sensitiveness, Born to be Lovers is a raw, down and dirty Blues of the very finest order and the album ends with Walkin’ On My Own; a danceable Rhythm & Blues song so full of sorrow and Soul it will make grown men weep as they cling onto their partners on the dance floor.
What a joy this album has been; but I shouldn’t have been too surprised as Northern Ireland is churning out some great artistes these days across all musical divides.
Is Kaz Hawkins ‘one for the future;? I hope not because the Blues World is not just ready for her now but it actually needs her to put the wind up all of those bloody guitarists!
Released September 2014