Monday, January 9, 2012

Unconditional reviewed by Rick Davis

Ana Popovic
Eclecto Groove Records
12 Tracks

It has been over two years since Ana Popovic has returned to the studio after her last studio recording Blind For Love in July of 2009. Popovic is considered world wide as one of the best female contemporary blues guitarists performing today. Having seen her perform live, I would concur with that statement! Since she was introduced to a wide variety of music at young age growing up in Serbia, she always delivers a perfect blend of rock, jazz, and soul with blues as the foundation for of all her music. Some of today's contemporary blues has fused traditional blues and rock giving us the best of both music worlds that we have cherished for years.

Unconditional, Popovic's new release, gives listeners more of a traditional blues sound than her previous studio recordings. The album was recorded at the famous Piety Street recording studios in New Orleans working with grammy-winning producer John Porter. It was her intention to capture that New Orleans musical tradition so famous in the Louisiana Delta.  Included on the CD are tunes made famous by some Ana's favorites, including Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Otis Spann, Nina Simone and Sugar Pie DeSanto. She either wrote or co-wrote with Mark van Meurs eight of the twelve cuts on this new CD. She was joined in the studio by an all-star cast of New Orleans' finest musicians such as famed slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, Jon Cleary and David Torkanowski on Hammond B3 and piano, Calvin Turner on bass, and Doug Belote on drums. Also included as a guest on the album is extraordinary harp player Jason Ricci. This collection of blues opens with a very roots oriented tune "Fearless Blues" demonstrating superb acoustic guitar and keyboard accompanied by rich background vocals. The hard driving number "Count Me In" combines the fiery guitar of Popovic and the explosive harp of Jason Ricci to take your pulse to the edge. The title track "Unconditional" is a masterful blend of slide guitar and keys with Ana reminding us of the unconditional love displayed "back in the day" delivered in her sultry voice. This is followed by an extremely soulful tune "Reset Rewind" a reflection of life. "Slideshow" is the Popovic/Landreth slide guitar shootout extravaganza that I could only imagine as a live performance on the banks of the Delta! "Business As Usual," also co-written with Mark van Meurs, is another soulful blues tune about a couple who has fallen into the daily routine of life, losing their passion for each other. She begins a guitar solo midway in the song and slowly builds to a blistering, explosive finish towards the end. Ana offers a little caution on "Your Love Ain't Real" as she begins with a subdued, sultry voice and ends up with a powerful delivery of her message. The Nat Adderley/Oscar Brown Jr. tune "Work Song" is a high energy arrangement with world class guitar solos by Ana. "Summer Rain" starts out with a funky rhythm guitar and continues with smooth vocals by Ana, harmonizing background vocals, and a strong guitar finish. Ana's vocals and slide guitar version of  KoKo Taylor's "Voodoo Woman" combined with New Orleans style drums will send you to Congo Square and put a spell on you! Popovic closes with a slow traditional Mercy Walton song "One Room Country Shack" followed by the McAlister/Vail classic blues tune "Soulful Dress" covered also by blues female artists Sugar Pie DeSanto, Marcia Ball, and recently by Maria Muldaur.

''The title Unconditional,'' Ana says, ''describes what I feel on stage. That place is simply unconditional. It is magical. It's just me and my guitar, notes, sounds and drum grooves. I let the band lift me up, and I feed off of their energy. I hate to think when playing. I only feel. Unconditional is how I stand towards my music - it's mine, it's sacred, and it's with no boundaries - absolute, definite. I tend to put everything I have into it and don't let anything or anyone get in between, except the people that truly inspire me.'' This new release is a masterpiece showing the versatility of both Ana Popovic's vocals guitar expertise.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

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