There's a lot to appreciate about One Louder, Misty Blues' 11th record, but the album's strength begins with singer Gina Coleman's voice, which is powerful without being bombastic, confidently steering the album's blues and blues-influenced songs, all of which she wrote.
Coleman's voice, which is unmistakably rich and textured, yet also subtle, is a blueprint for One Louder, which she also produced. There are horns and guest artists, and the songs swing and sway, but everything sounds nuanced. Horns don't blare like you've wandered either into traffic or a teenage ska show. Instead they deftly pop in and out of the songs, carrying things when they need to, but not afraid to go silent when the song is OK without them.
"A Long Hard Way," a slow blues, has everything. Piano. Guitar. Horns. The track feels expansive and while there's a lot going on, it's not too much. There's something downright American about the melodies and instrumentation, like a brief and incomplete history of American music, told in less than five minutes.
One of One Louder's more pleasant surprises is "Seal of Fate," a Zydeco track I didn't see coming. The track bounces like New Orleans jazz, with a bayou undercurrent, courtesy of David Vittone's accordion. The song isn't supposed to be pure Zydeco, but feels more like a hat-tip to an important musical style, and the groove is fun.
One Louder also features guests. "How the Blues Feels" allows Coleman to sing with Big Llou Johnson, a slow tempo number with the horns almost sounding Dixieland. Luckily, Bob Stannard's harmonica joins the track, keeping things nice and bluesy. Justin Johnson's slide guitar works well against the horns in "Freight Car," giving the tune a down-home feeling and making the song feel raucous but not sloppy.
The album's wildest, and best, track is "Take a Long Ride," which features Joe Louis Walker on guitar. It's funky and spacey, horns flying off, and Walker's guitar getting downright trippy. It flirts with P-Funk/Miles Davis untetheredness, with Coleman's vocals grounding the track with her earthy vocals. It's different from everything else on the album, in terms of leaving behind the overt, familiar grooves, but the tune is so exciting, by the time it winds down, you feel like you've been on an adventure.
Misty Blues is a tight band, which always makes for a good listen. But they're also a thoughtful group. There's a lot going on musically, but you never feel overwhelmed, because the band dispenses its sounds intentionally and judiciously. And while Misty Blues constructed the album deliberately, it also has a free-wheeling element to it, most explicitly on "Take a Long Ride," but across the album. Coleman is a talented singer, songwriter, and producer. Her influence is all over One Louder.