BY JENNIFER KELLY
Move over fashion plates, front-women, one-chord wonders and just-learned-the-bass-for-my-boyfriend’s-band chicks. Bex Marshall is a real woman of rock, a scorching hot guitar player with a cat’s-tongue of a voice that caresses even as it scrapes a layer of skin away. A Brit with a serious fixation on American roots, gospel, blues and R&B, she’s on fire in this third full-length, picking and sliding and bending the guitar notes until they wreathe around her like a heat mirage.
Her “House of Mercy” kicks things off in a whine of organ, a hip-jutting chink of tambourine. “Let the service begin,” Marshall insinuates, in a dirty whisper, as her tamped down guitar vamps against a bass-y cadence. A choir of gospel belters is on hand, too, ready to throw their hands and voices up at the chorus. Like all blues-people, Marshall talks in metaphors, using a vampire story (“Bite Me”), a fishing tale (“Gone Fishin’”) and a rattlesnake (“Rattlesnake”) as platforms for sexual innuendo. The heat is there anyway, pulsing through the lyrics, permeating Marshall’s playing and singing with a smoky sensuality. Her band is top-notch, too, with Barry Payne (quite possibly the love interest in “Barry’s Song”) bumping a groove on stand-up bass, Crispin Taylor on drum kit and Danny Bran on sizzling auxiliary percussion.
Marshall’s best songs are towards the front – the title track, the bass-and-organ seethe of “Rattlesnake,” the hypnotic slither of “Bite Me” – and there’s a bit of a let-down in cuts like “Rent My Room” (a too literal description of boho life in New York) and the folky, love-sappy “Barry’s Song”. Late in the album, Marshall turns more towards country, less towards funk, in blue-grassy, banjo-happy “Big Man,” and I’m not sure that’s her strength. She makes a nice recovery in “Guilty” though, scorching and strutting and growling like Tina Turner. She sounds a lot like Aretha on this final, smokin’ hot track, and unlike Aretha, she is also playing guitar.
DOWNLOAD: “Rattlesnake,” “Bite Me,” “Guilty”