I’ll nail my colours to the mast right out of the blocks here: I hate Genre Snobbery! Always have. It’s one of the most pointless things ever in the history of music, right up there alongside Kanye West’s modesty consultant. And it was around long before Bob Dylan strapped on an electric guitar or Yes performed a three and a half minute rock song on Top Of The Pops.
My most recent brush with Genre Snobbery came while I was stood watching Elles Bailey rock through the songs on her debut album, Wildfire, on the main stage at the Upton Blues Festival last week. Behind me, two worthy-looking blues dudes with beards and printed t-shirts under their raincoats were arguing about whether what we were listening to was Blues or Blues Rock!!
Sidebar: I have a particular loathing for the term “Blues Rock”. What does it even mean? It can’t just be blues that’s loud – blues has been loud since Muddy Waters invented electricity! My theory is that it was either (a) invented by PR companies to apologise for blues bands that can’t play with feeling so they just play with volume instead, or (b) invented by blues bands that couldn’t get a gig in their local pubs for love or money, but as soon as they called themselves Blues Rock, it was “sure, why didn’t you say so, come on in, play your hearts out for a pittance…”
Anyway, while the worthy duo were pontificating, I was enjoying Elles and the band knock it out of the park (despite the sound engineer’s apparent efforts to sabotage the on-stage vocal sound).
The live performance reflected the quality and energy on display on the recording. This is worth mentioning, because for a debut artist, either in the studio or on a pretty big stage, it’s not easy either to pack the kind of punch that breakout albums need to have, or to fill a festival stage and look like you belong there.
But this band , made up of some of the finest players in Nashville, alongside some of the UK’s best, packs the punches one after another, supporting an assault led strongly by Elles’ throaty, gutsy vocals. The production values are slick and commercial, with a radio-friendly tone that seems designed to appeal to the broadest possible fan base.
Which brings me back to genres. Elles Bailey is being described as the Princess of Blues. It’s difficult to argue with the Blues moniker when the album kicks off with a delta-style slide guitar riff, leading into a kick-ass rhythm section testing the limits of my stereo speakers mounting screws (the extreme volume is optional, in case you have less forgiving neighbours), but for my ears, the whole ensemble here is much more a Country style album, with a strong Rock feel, rather than Blues.
The band rocks, no doubt, and the Rock label is easily applicable, but most of the tracks would be perfectly at home at any stadium Country gig, or on the soundtrack of Nashville. And I mean that in the most complimentary way!
Personally, I love hearing new music that seems to disregard the niceties and protocols of genre politics. and it’s seriously encouraging to find new music that crosses genre boundaries and still has the support of the industry in terms of marketing and promotion.
I suspect that branding this album as Country Rock might turn many potential fans away without a second thought, but those people would be short-changing themselves in a big way! By labelling Elles as a Blues artist, and putting her out across the Blues festivals of Europe, she’ll certainly be a welcome and rewarding break from whatever the usual collection of 12-bar worthiness is on the bill.
But in the end, Blues, Rock, Country… who the hell cares any more? Wildfire is a hugely impressive debut album from a great band. Bring on the second album! (As long as it isn’t Jazz.)
Wildfire is out on 1st September via Outlaw Music