By TOM HUNTINGTON Arts Correspondent - Published: May 7, 2010
The success and studio accomplishments of Vermont's own Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have clearly had a positive effect on the music and songwriting skills of three of its members – guitarists Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco and drummer Matt Burr – who together kick out the blues-rock jams in their own five-piece band, Blues & Lasers.
Known for its incendiary live shows, the group – which also includes drummer Steve Sharon (yes, the group has two drummers) and bassist/keyboardist John Rogone – has seriously stepped up its game, judging by the results of its sophomore CD, "After All We're Only Human."
Instantly noticeable are the group's tighter song structures, more defined melodies and enhanced vocal skills. This is especially apparent when compared to its 2008 live debut EP, a five-song, 40-minute set of raw and hard-charging yet hypnotic Delta blues-driven rock excursions.
While the new nine-song, 50-minute album of originals retains the gritty, bar-burning energy that's been part and parcel of the group's sound since forming in 2007, Blues & Lasers delivers a more accessible, classic rock sound that evokes vintage '70s-era blues-rock while adding its own signature touch.
"After All" roars out of the gate with the solid one-two-punch of powerhouse openers "Give it a Try" and "Fallen Friend." The former is an infectious standout that rides a sultry blues-rock groove while employing distorted vocals and dual-guitar classic-rock riffs to great effect. The latter, one of four tunes written by Yurco, is a catchy rocker that calls to mind "Exile on Main Street"-era Rolling Stones, with Yurco's vocals even conjuring Keith Richards.
The album's closing tunes are also highlights. The Yurco-penned "Somewhere on the Road" is a rollicking rocker – complete with "ooh" and "la la la" background vocals – that recalls early Wilco. Closer "Take You Down" – one of only two seven-minute songs – is reminiscent of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with searing guitar work by Tournet and Yurco, who somehow marry different guitar styles with stellar results.
Crazy Horse – and maybe even a little Blue Oyster Cult – is also invoked on the other seven-minute tune, the album's title track, with dreamy vocal harmonies a la more modern band My Morning Jacket.
Which is not to say that "After All" is entirely derivative; somehow, the members of Blues & Lasers make it their own. This is especially true on another Yurco tune, "Forget About Me," which serves up dirty, tweaked-out blues-rock as only Blues & Lasers can deliver it. Ditto the mesmerizing blues of "Glory" and "Before You Use Me."
Still, if you like good, original blues-rock with a classic sensibility, you'll likely really like the new Blues & Lasers album.