Music in the Mountains got his hands on a copy of the Blue Sherlock’s first full-length album, ‘One Take’, prior to the album’s release . . . is it good? . . .
Blue Sherlock is a band that absolutely shines live – their ‘Tash Sultana’ approach to live looping and ‘Hozier’ level emotional delivery makes every live performance something unique, complex, special and a real experience that draws you in and doesn’t let go until they are ready to ease up. For acts like this, studio recordings often feel contrived and leave you wishing for something with more energy and the texture of a live room . . . but not ‘One Take’. Blue Sherlock have recorded this so you can listen at home and still FEEL something. But before I dive into the album, it helps to understand the context of this album.
Blue Sherlock is the partnership of Willem Sherlock Roorda and Jeremy Holland. Blue Sherlock was . . . “Born on Jeremy’s thighs, in a piece of trash Toyota Camry somewhere between Orange and the [Blue] Mountains. A banger was blaring on the radio, his hands were going a million miles an hour on his trousers while Willem yelled a bit and played air guitar. “Hey man, we should jam sometime.” Since then, Willem Sherlock Roorda and Jeremy have been concocting the dirty, delicious, bluesy funk that is Blue Sherlock. Living proof that the Blues is alive, well, and ready to kick your teeth in.” While this tells a nice little story about how Willem and Jeremy became a duo, Blue Sherlock have not ever been content with just being one thing and staying still. Trying to pin down this act to one genre is a little difficult as both Willem and Jeremy continue to develop as professional musicians and explore their varied musical tastes. Blurring the lines between alternative, indie, blues and sometimes even pop, this duo is better described as producing “luscious vibes and moody textures”, but knowing these guys, by the time you read this review, they might be pushing a different boundary. With looping underpinning both Willem and Jeremy’s performance, their music is all about complex layers, never ending in a crescendo or fading into silence – it’s not about the beginning or the end, it’s more about the journey.
But, this album! It’s mature, emotive and gives all of Willem and Jeremy’s different musical influences a little bit of air time. This album, as it says on the label, was recorded in one-take, which was a smart choice for an act most at home in front of a live audience. In fact, when I was discussing the album with the boys, they told me that they recorded the album in a day, sat in whilst the tracks we’re being mastered and then haven’t listened to it since. For me, this was no surprise.
Tracks like ‘Alright with me’ and ‘Gentle’ are more subdued and a nod to Willem’s songwriting back before he partnered with Jeremy. They’re not the highlights of this album by any stretch but provide some real balance with the heavier tunes on the album. ’Devil Woman’ and ‘Born Bred Blind’ showcase Blue Sherlock’s bluesy roots, with Willem’s vocals being crisp but almost on the edge of husky. Whilst I appreciate these tracks, I am in the unique position of having seen this band form and develop into the live powerhouse they are now over some years, and it’s unlikely I would rush to tune into these songs again. Of course, I am in a different position to the casual listener and assure you that all these tracks are excellent, complex and adapted specifically for a studio recording and to be listened to with headphones.
In fact, as someone who has been present for countless live performances of theirs, one of the most surprising elements of this album is how well Willem and Jeremy have tailored their live performances to be listened to and digested digitally. ‘Electric Feel’ has a soft beginning with swirling waves of delicate layers building on top of Jeremy’s understated bass, allowing Willem’s gentle guitar picking to be the real star of this track, really encouraging listening to with good quality headphones or home hifi speakers. In a live setting, this track gets driven harder to overcome audience noise or cover the space, making this recording just something a little bit special. ‘Liar’ similarly gets special treatment with Willem’s vocals being more present than live performances and his guitar echoes more skilfully crafted for the recording. Willem’s vocals on ‘Weather’ also deserves a special mention as his almost poetic delivery over Jeremy holding the blues down made for a unique recording. As someone who hears so much live music, it’s easy to forget how a studio album needs to be produced for its audience, and that audience is streaming tracks through Apple Music and Spotify, and listening through headphones. But if you think that that’s a problem, you’re mistaken.
The most surprising track on this album is ‘Fever’. Now, I’m sure you’ve heard fever about a thousand times and always think that the Peggy Lee classic is a hard act to follow (yes, Peggy’s wasn’t the original version, but it is the version we all remember) and the song really is a ‘chick flick’. Well, Blue Sherlock will challenge you on this point as they turn this often Latin jazz number into a blues stroll, and listening through headphones really forces you to give yourself into the tune. Jeremy’s blues bass anchors this performance and really stretches it out, whereas most performers would rush through this track to punctuate a more frenetic approach to the song. Not Blue Sherlock . . . they sit on the fat beat, holding you there, forcing you wallow in the tune, allowing Willem to take his time through the lyrics. This is very much a refreshing approach to fever and leaves a lasting impression.
When it comes down to it, Blue Sherlock are an emotive duo – their songs always get you in ‘the feels’, and on that topic, my favourite track on the album is ‘Nothing Else’. This 10-minute track isn’t rushing to finish and compels you to close your eyes and give in. The music slowly builds up layers and skilfully plays up every element in the mix as it builds – you won’t hit any lyrics for over 2 minutes, and even then, it’s still building up. There is a real sweetness in the music and lyrics, and Jeremy’s measured bass line complements Willem’s heartfelt words, making this a truly special track. After Blue Sherlock reach a climax in this song, they’re still not done and give you just enough time to come back down, ending on the lines “just the way you are, I like you”, and boy do I like this song. I started this review by saying that Blue Sherlock draws you in and compels you to listen on their terms, and no other track is quite this compelling. Perhaps this song benefits from it’s context as COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for many people, and perhaps this track is that emotional journey some of us need to take right now. This track isn’t the biggest track on the album, it’s just the song that says we are all okay just the way we are. I don’t know about you, but I occasionally need to hear that and Blue Sherlock are just one of those acts who know how to shoot you in the feels.
Now, I might have said that ‘Nothing Else’ was my favourite track, but it’s my suspicion is that ‘Win Lose’ will be the track that more listeners identify with. ‘Win Lose’ is still over 9-minutes long in true Blue Sherlock style and doesn’t deliver any lyrics until the 3.5-minute mark. Once again, this track captivates, compels and takes its sweet time to get there – only when this track is good and ready does it let up. This is a more stripped back number than ‘Nothing Else’ but just as emotionally charged, and it’s more acoustic-style singer-songwriter vibe will be a crowd favourite. Listen to the lyrics and you will easily picture a music video in your head and tears may swell up as you picture the ‘will they, won’t they’ romantic story line. That of course isn’t what Blue Sherlock pictured, but the pacing of the song and more spacious soundscape leave images of 90’s rom-com narratives in my head.
As I had time to process the album in full, and revisit a few tracks, I realise that the real charm of this album is that the listener is able to give each song it’s own meaning. Whilst Blue Sherlock have a story behind each track, they don’t force-feed you their message and instead focus on conveying a feeling, and this is something Willem and Jeremy do very well. As with everything Blue Sherlock, their tunes are more about the journey rather than where they started, or where they are going, and In 2021, this is a message many listeners will resonate with (it certainly resonated with me). In short, find a quiet space, put on some headphones, give yourself some time and be ready to feel something.
Listening Conditions: Premium bluetooth headphones with good soundstage; a dark room; a quiet environment, 100% attention. Listened to & reviewed in one take.