Friday, September 29, 2023

Sunnysiders: “27 Stitches” (2023) CD Review

Sunnysiders are a blues band based in Croatia, begun by the duo of Boris “Hrepa” Hrepić and Antonija “Rola” Vrgoč approximately thirteen years ago. They soon became a full band and released a few albums, including 2020’s The Bridges. Their new album, 27 Stitches, features all original music, most of it written by Hrepić and Vrgoč. The band is made up of Boris “Hrepa” Hrepić on vocals, guitar, harmonica and bass; Antonija “Rola” Vrgoč on vocals and percussion; Luka “Bane” Banić on electric guitar and acoustic guitar; Tomislav “Tomi” Novak on upright bass, fretless bass and dobro; and Mihael “Miha” Vlah on drums. There are special guests on several tracks.

Right from the start of the first track, “Shake And Shiver,” this band grabs you. That cool opening features Hrepa’s deep and sincere vocals, the lines delivered with an intimacy that pulls listeners in. “Under my shoes it’s the same dirt and mud.” And his harmonica seems to respond to what he’s saying. Just after that, the song kicks in, and Rola takes over on vocals, with Hrepa now in a supportive role, which is interesting. The song grows to include a horn section, and features a good groove. Jakša Jordes plays saxophone, Šime Glavina plays trumpet, and Luka Lazar plays trombone on this one. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I’m not always the one to follow/You’re not always the one to please/But I will never reach for the sorrow/Never put you down on your knees.” I like the short response Hrepa gives to that last line. And, interestingly, they sing these lines together, “I am the one who always remembers/You are the one who always forgets.” That’s followed by “Who Stole The Rainbow,” which also has a strong groove. According to the disc’s liner notes, this is the oldest song on the album, written by Boris Hrepić and Denis Bižaca when they were still teenagers. It is about offering shelter to a young woman who has suffered abuse. “Hello little girl, your heart has a scar/Hello little girl, now evil is far/Who stole the rainbow?” The girl does respond in part of the song, but is not yet comfortable enough to answer the question directly, and so we get a sense of what she’s experienced more through what is said about her, and through the sound of the song, particularly the guitar work.

The album’s title track, “27 Stitches,” is one of its coolest tracks, with a mean, darker vibe, like something you might hear from Tom Waits. Hrepa and Rola sing this one together. “27 stitches and each one hurts/27 stitches, each one deserved/Lying, cheating, hurting, that’s what I did.” There is a deliciously haunting aspect to this song. Adding to its great sound are Gogo Zujić on rabab, Stipan Kujundžić on tar, and Hari Klarica on bodhran. This is one of my personal favorites. Then there is something of a pop feel to “Weekend Cigarette” as it begins. But then that mournful harmonica adds a different flavor in those early moments. “Every time when you have to go/You love me less than you can confess.” The harmonica then lets loose. This track includes some nice work on guitar, plus some wonderful work by guest musician Vedran Dakić on piano.

“Soup” opens with a strong pulse, feeling like it might become a hard rockin’ number. Interestingly, it actually becomes lighter and playful, the tone changing as they deliver the song’s main line, “I need your soup, soup, soup.” And apparently, it’s not intended as metaphor, but rather they are singing about soup, and so it is a surprisingly fun number. It features some great stuff on harmonica, and Vedran Križan joins the group on accordion. The instrumental sections have a heavier, rocking sound. They switch gears again with “Love You At All,” which begins with some pretty work on acoustic guitar and Hrepa professing his love. This is more in the folk realm. “But there is one moment, darling/When I love you more/It is the moment when you don’t believe me/That I love you at all.” This is another of the disc’s highlights. It’s followed by yet another highlight, “Walk Till Tomorrow.” This one creates a strong atmosphere at the beginning, with that harmonica reaching us over a desolate landscape. “They say life is illusion/They say life is just stumbles and falls.” And then the track becomes a catchy, empowering song, emerging from that opening section. It is like we are marching out of the troubled land on our own terms, the band and those of us listening moving together. This one also has an excellent instrumental section in the second half, featuring some passionate work on guitar. Jadran Vušković provides backing vocals on this track.

“You Can’t Use Your Friend” has more of a traditional blues rhythm, and the horn section comes back, offering some wonderful work. Also, Andrea Jelavić joins the group on flute. Rola delivers a strong vocal performance, and this track features some really nice work on guitar during that instrumental section. That is followed by “Love Remote,” which is a straight ahead rock song, coming as something of a surprise. Special guest Davorin Bogović joins the group on vocals for this one. It’s a fun song, reminding me of some of the music I grew up listening to. There is that sound, that feel, and I am particularly fond of the bass line. Yet, it does have some surprises in it, as that section in the second half: “You can call it destiny/It’s a simple move for me, you’ll see/In the world of disgrace/This is the only place to stay.” “Love Remote” was written by Boris Hrepić and Luka Banić. The band then change gears again with “What About You,” which opens with some nice work on acoustic guitar. “My life has always been a clear case/Everything is written on my face/Whatever I do/What about you.” Vedran Križan joins them on organ, delivering some wonderful work.

“Devil’s Loans” contains a little nod to George Thorogood in its first line, “I was bad to every single bone.” This is another seriously cool track, its sound a delicious combination of influences and instruments. Stipan Kujundžić is on tar, Gogo Zujić is on rabab, and Hari Klarica plays bodhran. This is another of the album’s highlights. “Rivers will flow and rain will fall down/And I will do my best to walk on solid ground/I will do my best to walk on solid ground.” The album concludes with “Highway To Blues,” which has an eerie opening. This is a dark, haunted highway they are on. Then there is a countdown, “Three, two, one,” and the song kicks in, though maintains an eerie aspect. The lyrics have a deep, sort of spoken word delivery, like some of Leonard Cohen’s later work. “Don’t speak, my dear friend, and don’t try to cheer me up/I am behind the wheel again and I don’t mean to stop.” As the song progresses, there is a strange, inevitable beauty to it, like a beauty found within defeat. And check out that work on guitar. This is a fantastic closing number.

CD Track List

  1. Shake And Shiver
  2. Who Stole The Rainbow
  3. 27 Stitches
  4. Weekend Cigarette
  5. Soup
  6. Love You At All
  7. Walk Till Tomorrow
  8. You Can’t Use Your Friend
  9. Love Remote
  10. What About You
  11. Devil’s Loan
  12. Highway To Blues

27 Stitches is scheduled to be released on October 12, 2023.

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