19 October 2015

BLUES MAGAZINE UK #24 – “Eliza Neals – The Future of the Blues”

From opera halls to smoke-filled clubs, here comes blues’ newest leather-throated siren.

words by Rich Chamberlain

You might think we’ve gone off the deep end when we say an opera singer raised in the home of Motown is one of the hottest new blues artists. But we’re deadly serious on this one.

The star in question is Eliza Neals, a Detroit vocalist who has put herself on the map thanks to her superb new album, “Breaking and Entering.” But this is one blues icon-in-the-making that very nearly slipped the net.

After being turned on to classic rock and blues by her older sister while just a nipper, Neals quickly discovered her talent for melody. The sisters jammed rock favorites on the piano, performing at local talent shows and often walking away with top prize. Right from an early age, Eliza’s vocal ability stood out, and when she enrolled to study opera at Wayne State University, it seemed that her future as an operatic powerhouse was set in stone.
But things don’t always turn out quite as you planned. Fast forward to today and Neals’ future as a vocal force is very much being realized, but it’s the blues that she is singing rather than opera. It seems that while she had the pipes for classical, her heart remained rooted in rock. She tried to juggle the two polar opposite styles, but when it came to a head there was only going to be one winner.
“My teacher told me I had to choose between opera and rock. I couldn’t be a raspy opera singer,” she explains. “Rock was where my heart was. I decided I’d rather go my rock’n’roll. I had the techniques for singing opera but I was writing blues rock tunes.”
Blues rock came calling and she most definitely had the tools for the job. Early Neals records such as the locally-released “Liquorfoot” and “No Frogs For Snakes” (released in 2005 and 2008 respectively) may have been blues-lite, showcasing more of a pop and country rock sound, but they were littered with glimpses of what she was capable of. More specifically, they showed flashes of her powerhouse vocal prowess. Today, she tells us that her stunning range wasn’t purely a God-given gift, rather something she honed and perfected through good old-fashioned grit, determination and practice.
“I was playing 6 nights a week in rock clubs that were full of smoke and then I would do a wedding,” she says of her early days. “Doing that for 10 years straight molded my voice . Detroit was the training for my voice. Detroit was boot camp for my voice. When I sing blues it’s almost like someone is pressing a fuzz pedal. I just have this rasp.”
It wasn’t just her voice that Detroit helped shape, Neals’ work ethic was also forged by this unforgiving music city. As home to rich blues, jazz, soul, gospel, and classical scenes, Detroit is jam-packed with talented writers and musicians. As Neals notes, to stand-out here you need to be something special.
“The musicians here are fantastic because they have to be. People might here you play and say: ‘Well, that was okay but come back when you know what you’re doing.’ Then you’ll go away for a year and work on it. People in Detroit don’t quit.”

Neals took the Detroit ethos of working at your craft to heart, and the rewards can be heard all over her new album “Breaking and Entering.” Not only is it one of the finest records you’ll hear this year, it’s also one of the most eclectic. The blues flag is flown proudly throughout.

There’s guitarist – and long-time {truly new friend} Neals collaborator – Howard Glazer’s Delta dobro that jangles in and out of “Detroit Drive,” for starters. Then how about the slick slide that fills “Goo Goo Glass” or the title tracks tried-and-trusted bar-room blues formula?
But there’s also “Southern Comfort Dreams” {Featuring guitarist Kenny Olson not Mr. Glazer} with its polished rock pomp, the electric dream pop of “You” {also Kenny Olson}, the raspy “Windshield Wipers” and the straight-up Motown swing that carries “Sugar Daddy” {Shane Visbal on Guitar}. Neals may have found her voice by staying true to her Detroit roots, but her musical footprint steps all over the map.
“Everything I’ve ever learned and loved came through me on this album. These are the songs that I would want to hear. It’s classic rock, soul, blues, southern rock and Motown. I rolled all that up and wrote these songs. I wanted to make an album that was a throwback in the vein of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. I wanted the album to sound like it came from Woodstock.”
The heroes of Woodstock would surely be impressed with the strong sense of identity that Neals has stamped through “Breaking and Entering. If her early records were the sound of a promising songstress testing the water and seeing exactly what she was sonically capable of, this is an album made by fully-formed, well-rounded artist.
“On the first record I {Barrett Strong Producer} was learning and just listening to what people told me.” she admits. “They would tell me to do something and I’d do it. On each album I was learning how to write better tunes. But then…

“you have to erase everything your learned and just do what moves you. You need to listen to what you feel.”

Sink or swim I doing it the way I want to. It’s my soul, my heartbeat, my phrasing . It’s my breath and no one else’s breath.”
The vocal performance on the records title track is a sweet sign of Neals’ well earned confidence. She soars and squeals, sounding majestic and possessed in equal measure. It is raw emotion, a vocal take borne out of passion and, as it turns out, a desire to impress.

“I sang Breaking and Entering in one take. It was so funny, there was a guy in the studio who came to watch. I was told he was someone huge in the blues so I wanted to show him what I could do. I thought he was some huge blues booking agent that could work with us. I was trying to impress him by singing the song in one take and it turned out he was nobody at all, he couldn’t do shit! I glad he was there though because it turned out really well.”
One true blues giant that did give Neals his approval was BB King. King handpicked her music for Bluesville radio station shortly before his passing earlier this year.
“That was a huge honor. I couldn’t believe it,” she beams. “We’re forever connected through the music. For him to pick my music really freaked me out. B B always sounded so natural and free, that’s how I want to sound.”
We’re not sure that endorsements come much better than that. We round off our chat with Neals by asking whether she’s here for good. Does the blues have a new starlet that will blossoming into a great, or will she be tempted back to her operatic roots?
“My heart is in rock blues,” she assures us. “One day maybe do some more opera, but I love what I’m doing now. Blues is carefree whereas opera is so rigid. When I left opera I had to forget all the rules I had learned and go my own way.” 

{their Star thanks Blues Magazine UK}

I was aware of being included on BLUES MAGAZINE UK# 24 ‘Covermount’ album “In Safe Hands the next Generation of blues Superstars” however not until I got a copy of the magazine did I realize that the interview was included click the link above to read about how cool this covermount is…