Anyone looking for proof that the blues is alive and well and living in Europe need look no futher than this year’s European Blues Challenge, organized by the European Blues Union and held in Riga, Latvia, on the second weekend in April. There, 18 acts – each of them a winner of their respective national competition – showcased their talents on two consecutive night of 20-minute live performances. The event felt less like a contest than a celebration: An enthusiastic crowd made up of locals, visiting fans, and participating musicians cheered each band in a spirit of community and fair play. On the surface at least, no one seemed to care much about winning.
In the end, a panel of industry insiders gave Spain’s A Contra Blues top honors. The abundant talents of this five-piece outfit from Barcelona are apparent on their 2013 CD release Chances. The opening two numbers, “A hole in my pocket” and “Just arrived” – the former rooted in rockabilly, the latter in Elmore James-style blues – show off the key double-barreled weapon in their arsenal: Héctor Martín and Alberto Noel Calvillo Mendiola, two equally gifted guitarists who create an exciting and playful tension. In contrast to the band’s previous album, which relied heavly on classic covers, Chances shows off impressive song writting chops. “Barkin’ dog” for example, is a tense and gripping acoustic track immediately followed by an exhilarating swing workout, “Don’t do that city” recalling Brian Setzer’s finest moments. The singing of Jonathan Herrero Herrería is rather heavily accented, but his phrasing, tone, and feel for rhythm make him a riveting front man.
Blues Music Magazine (USA)