REVIEW: The Tea Party – Blood Moon Rising

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Back in the ’90s, Canadian music television MuchMusic put together a few alternative rock compilation albums with the name “Big Shiny Tunes,” which were extremely popular. Of these, “Big Shiny Tunes 2” was the best-selling, reaching diamond status in Canada. These albums were my introduction to both alternative rock and the Toronto-based band, THE TEA PARTY and their big hit, “Temptation,” which was on “BST2.” Having always had a soft spot for this underrated Canadian band and doubly considering that they had been broken up for a good long while in the 2000s, I was truly excited to hear that they would be releasing a new album, “Blood Moon Rising,” on November 26th, 2021, via InsideOut Music.

One of the biggest questions about this album was, simply, what do THE TEA PARTY sound like in 2021? From the ’90s, they had a very emotive style of alternative rock, with hints of grunge and even some touches of oriental music here and there. What’s more is that this album has an impressive fourteen tracks (even if there are a few covers and one bonus track), meaning that it has a lot of songs with the potential to hit or miss, while also running the risk of having a lot of filler or being overly long.

The first single, “Black River” – which also doubles as the first song on the album – was an encouraging debut reveal, as it showed off a groovy, distorted, rhythmic riff, a strong LED ZEPPELIN guitar-sound in the leads, a funky rhythm section, while Jeff Martin‘s wonderfully deep and rich voice sounds virtually unchanged since the ’90s (in the best sort of way). It’s pretty much an alternative rock masterpiece, upholding a strong link to their distinct, original sound, while not sounding particularly like anything they’ve done before, yet still showing off an impressive overall energy.

What else can be said? On first listen and every listen thereafter, the album proves to be extremely diverse when it comes to genre and multilayered when it comes to instrumentation. They start strong with the classic alternative stoner rock in “Black River,” but the album goes through everything from hard rock to more melodic pop-adjacent indie rock. They keep up the groovy alternative-rock sound in “Way Way Down,” which plays off a main riff as Martin toys around with the vocal lines, making good use of harmonica and some light country stylings, while “Sunshower” stands out for its fabulous guitar solo, creative bass work, and soothing feel. “So Careless” has a strong low end, with crafty drumming and bass, with some interesting sounds blended into the mix that I couldn’t put a finger on, while Martin‘s vocals are simultaneously seductively alluring and singalong-ably catchy, making this an easy highlight from the album.

“Blood Moon Rising” slows down a bit as it reaches “Our Love,” which opens on acoustic guitar, leading into the true low end of Martin‘s sound, while “Hole in My Heart” keeps a lower tempo with a strong push from the rhythms whenever needed, alongside some very alternative-rock distortion on the vocals, which are naturally excellent. There’s also another slick, slower solo with good vocal layering into the choirs to give Martin‘s voice a push. “Shelter” is another one of the slower tracks, with an emotional descending guitar line that perfectly matches the emotion in Martin‘s voice and lyrics. Is there yet another smooth guitar solo? Yes, yes there is.

There’s a wonderful feel-good groove to “Summertime,” which is exactly the kind of song that gives a warm glow to pre-middle-aged people like myself, enjoying our post-party years. Its energy is powerful, yet it’s not brain-crushingly fast. You can enjoy the smooth guitar riffing when relaxing, or you could use it to add some life to your barbequing out in the evening sun. I’m only sorry this song has to wait three seasons to be enjoyed optimally. Then we return to a LED ZEPPELIN-y groove in “Out on the Tiles” (the actual LED ZEPPELIN cover), which has a fierce choir in the choruses that admittedly could’ve been built-up-to a bit more. Alas, no! THE TEA PARTY really punch you with this one, with Martin and backing vocals blending together in every other line of the verses. It’s hard to say if it would’ve benefited from a gentler dynamic build-up, but when you hear those slick guitar lines… sorry, what was I talking about? It’s a little chaotic, but maybe that was the idea, as ZEPPELIN were chaotic in their own way. They then slow things down again with the title track, “Blood Moon Rising (Watsy’s Song),” which could theoretically double as the ballad-outro for the main part of the album. It uses some steel guitar but doesn’t sound too much like a country song, thanks in part to Martin‘s bluesy singing and the balanced production. This wraps up the main body of the album nicely, leaving the covers and bonuses to finish up.

“Isolation” has an unusual vibe due to being a JOY DIVISION cover, feeling like a gentler, synth-ier “Temptation” that has a fun repeating bass line and a mellow overall feel, low on the alternative for these guys. They take a turn for the indie-rock with the Morrisey cover, “Everyday is Like Sunday,” though the depth of Martin‘s voice keeps it from being too cheesy. It’s a feel-good song with strummed guitars, a smooth bass line, and understated but powerful synths. The album closes up with the bonus live version of “Way Way Down,” which has an even heftier country-rock flavor with a healthy dollop of blues thickly slathered on top.

If my concern was that THE TEA PARTY wouldn’t live up to my hopes, I clearly wasted my worries. Even if it has been years and years since their last release, these Canadians know what they’re doing and made sure that they gave a little bit of everything with “Blood Moon Rising.” You may have noted that I was paying a lot of attention to the bass… or rather, the bass was consistently grabbing my attention. If you read a lot of my reviews, you may have noticed that one of my biggest nags is a boring low-end. Nothing destroys or genericizes music like a basic, bland pop drum-beat and a nothing bass-line. Jeff Burrows can keep a tight beat on those drums, but he adds nice fills and lively change-ups to keep it interesting, while all of the bass lines by Stuart Chatwood maintain a very high level of bass grooviness that, combined with Burrows, creates a fabulous low-end that melds phenomenally into Jeff Martin‘s deep, deep vocals. This creates a delicious, bass-y foundation for the guitars to play around on, as there are many laidback and/or fiery solos on the album. Then, do pop down to the Lineup below just to see what other instruments and sounds are melded perfectly into this album to make sure every song is its own entity. If there’s one long-term comeback rock album from 2021, this sure might be it and I tip my hat to my Canadian brethren!

Tracklist

  1. Black River
  2. Way Way Down
  3. Sunshower
  4. So Careless
  5. Our Love
  6. Hole In My Heart
  7. Shelter
  8. Summertime
  9. Out On The Tiles (Led Zeppelin Cover)
  10. The Beautiful
  11. Blood Moon Rising (Wattsy’s Song)
  12. Isolation (Joy Division cover)
  13. Everday is Like Sunday (Morrisey cover)
  14. Way Way Down (bonus live track)

Lineup

  • Jeff Martin – vocals, guitar, sitar, sarod, oud, banjo, mandolin, dumbek, hurdy-gurdy, esraj, percussion, theremin
  • Stuart Chatwood – bass guitar, guitar, keyboard instruments, harmonium, percussion, mandolin, tambura, cello, lap steel guitar, bass pedals 
  • Jeff Burrows – drum kit, percussion, djembe, goblet drums, tabla

Label

InsideOut Music

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