The Ice Queen
Sue Foley's early recordings left me cold in part because her vocals came off flat to these ears, despite he undeniable strengths as a guitarist, What is striking on her latest recording on Stony Plain is how her vocals have dramatically improved. Joining her as special guests is a trio of legendary Texas guitar slingers – Jimmie Vaughan, Z.Z.Top’s Billy F Gibbons and Charlie Sexton - along with other Lone Star State all-stars, including Chris “Whipper” Layton (bass) (and George Rains (drums), Derek O’Brien (guitar), Chris Maresh and Billy Horton (bass) and The Texas Horns: John Mills, Al Gomez, Jimmy Shortell, Randy Zimmerman and Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff. Producer Mike Flanigan adds his keyboards to the striking backing on a set of blues and roots songs.
With two exceptions (from the Bessie Smith and Carter Family songbooks), Foley wrote all the songs (one being a collaboration with Flanigan). The music ranges from blues, blues-infused rock and roots. The performances are solid and Foley's fluid guitar playing displays her virtuosity, but also her musical intelligence and ability to craft marvelous solos with wonderful support. As indicated her singing has improved as heard on her opening "Come To Me," with the restraint in her delivery of slightly nasal singing. Charlie Sexton's slide guitar and backing vocal is noteworthy besides her own smoldering playing. Like the opening track, "81" is more of a blues-infused rock number with her brooding vocal and stinging guitar.
The title track is a nice slow blues with just Billy Horton's bass and George Rains drums with a choice lyric ("all the men agree that I'm too slippery to catch"), and a terrific guitar solo. It is followed by a buoyant duet with Jimmy Vaughan on the shuffle "The Lucky Ones," with them trading vocal lines as well as guitar solos. Another strong track is "Gaslight," with a gusty tenor sax solo from Elias Haslanger along with Foley's own crisp solo against the amusing lyric. Billy Gibbons adds his gravelly vocal, guitar and harmonica to "Fool's Gold," with a lazy shuffle groove and some greasy organ from co-composer Flanigan, before another terrific Foley solo.
"If I Have Forsaken You" is a wonderful song which will evoke the classic Bobby Bland Duke recordings in part to John Mills' arrangement for the Texas Horns. While Foley will never be viewed as a singer on the level of the late Bland, she sings with quiet conviction here, and certainly this is a song one might expect to hear others cover as well. In contrast, her updating of Bessie Smith's "Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair," is more interesting musically than vocally. Much more appealing is the wistful "Death of a Dream," with her on acoustic guitar with standup bass and drums backing. The final two tracks have her on solo acoustic guitar. The flamenco-rooted, "The Dance," is a striking original followed by a adept rendition of the Carter Family's classic "Cannonball Blues."
Overall, this was a delightful surprise to this listener. Sue Foley is an exceptional guitarist, writes intriguing originals, and is now a capable singer with charm and conviction. If there are a couple of imperfect performances, the "The Ice Queen" still is a first-rate album of blues and roots.
I received from Stony Plain via a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 377). Here Sue Foley performs "The Ice Queen."