There is something inherently alluring about a gutsy woman with a strong set of pipes. Noteworthy female artists in the Indian music scene may be few and far between but they are a growing breed. One such woman, Ipshita Roy, is the lead singer of the Delhi-based blues band Big Bang Blues and she is what makes them interesting and to be completely honest – very cool! Now before I am unfairly accused of focusing a bit too much on the sole female member of the band, I would like to say that anyone who can bring Aretha Franklin-esque vocals to a song deserves a special mention.
The Indian blues scene is replete with talented musicians who have made their mark on an international level as well. A fairly new addition to this space is Big Bang Blues, a Delhi-based band formed in the year 2009. Not all was rosy during the few years after the inception of the band as it went through several line-up changes. However, every time a talented new musician joined the band, their sound evolved for the better. As a result, their songs are an interesting blend of Jazz, Blues, Rockabilly and Rock and Roll. The current line-up consists of founding member and vocalist Ipshita Roy, bassist Devang Baheti who also provides backing vocals, Rahul Sengupta on Drums, Shivam Khare on Keyboards, guitarist Sushant Thakur and Kapil Chetri on Harmonica and guitar. They count BB King, Janis Joplin, Muddy Waters and various other Jazz and Blues greats among their influences and they rely heavily on Delta and country blues during their live performances.
Big Band Blues is primarily known for their covers and have gathered quite a following after having performed in Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Naukuchiatal and Mumbai. They do seem to love alliterations, having alliterated their name and the name of their debut E.P Bigger than Blues. This five-track album was released on 1st November, 2012 and this teaser has their best original compositions. Unlike other Indian Blues bands; instead of diluting old-school blues and Jazz with fusion music, they have more or less stuck to the roots and original sounds of blues. The name of their debut album many not be too imaginative but it handles some heavy topics. According to the band, the album captures the various emotions of the band members as they were working on it and the songs talk of their lives and experiences. All the songs were written by Sushant Thakur and Ipshita Roy and they describe strong emotions like love, heartbreak, loneliness and rage.
Their songs overflow with emotion that cannot be contained in the standard track-length of three minutes. Even though most of the songs on the E.P clock in at close to 5 minutes each, they never become tired or repetitive. With exhilarating highs and sultry lows, the tempo changes in each song will keep you hooked on till the end. Not to mention the sassy and angsty vocals by Ipshita can put any listener in Diva mode! You might just grab an empty plastic bottle or a broom and belt out these songs to an invisible audience in your bedroom. Not just Ispshitas, the musical talent of each band member shines in the groovy instrumental sections, tricky guitar harmonies and tantalizing harmonica and guitar solos that crowd every song. The album consists of old-school Jazz to melodic blues with good ol rock and roll thrown in. Some may feel that Bigger than Blues doesnt fit in into any modern musical genre and that it probably belongs in the Janis Joplin era, but this is what we yearn for raw, powerful and unabashed music.
Disrespected Blues is based on a traumatic phase in Ipshitas love life. The betrayal and anger that she felt when the man she thought was perfect turns out to disrespect her because of her passion for the blues has been distilled into this track. It seems like she was possessed by the spirit of Aretha Franklin when she sang this piece. The funky keyboard action at the beginning of the song gives way to some groovy guitars and explosive vocals. The track reaches a frenzied peak mid-way with Shivam Khare going crazy on the keyboards when it suddenly mellows out into a soft harmonica dominated interlude. However, the interlude is short-lived and the song ends with a flourish.
The classic rock n roll inspired Junky Stone is most probably about an old-timer, badass rocker who refuses to give up the life. Like the preceding track, this one is stuffed with keyboard and harmonica madness. The catchy but subdued bassline stands out beautifully against the otherwise unbridled and energetic leads and keyboards. Nevertheless, compared to the other tracks on the album, this one is pretty forgettable.
The album then slows down with Sweet Bridge, a languid breezy track that starts off sounding like a classic rock number. At over eight minutes long, it is the longest track in the album but is hardly ever boring. The overwhelming guitar overture is terminated by Ipshitas sultry crooning. She often sounds like the Trip-hop legend Beth Gibbons passionate, dark and inviting. Instantly arresting and an interesting mix of blues, rock, jazz and possibly trip-hop this is the song I liked best. Although the lyrics are depressing, lamenting the loss of a lover, the song is uber-sexy.
In complete contrast with the previous track, Lovestruck Blues is a nod to Rockabilly and Blues music. The twangy guitar in the beginning almost sounds like a Banjo and the Harmonica clearly indicate that the song was inspired by blues greats Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. It even sounds a lot like Im a Man by Bo Diddley. This is another sassy and powerful track that completely changes the mood of the album. Naughty and suggestive with some great instrumental sections, this track will have you shaking your hips!
The E.P closes with Moonless Nights a song penned by Sushant Thakur after he was left with a broken heart. One of their first few original compositions, it is not as refined as the other tracks; even the lyrics fall short of the standard set by the rest of the album. However, it is a crowd-pleaser and provides an upbeat end to the album albeit the twisted lyrics.
After years of playing covers and touring the country, the band has selected their best original compositions for their first E.P Bigger than Blues. A heady combination of blues, jazz and rock and roll, this album is a perfect tribute to all the legendary artists they name as their influences. They consider themselves to be born from the Blues Mother artist and friend Abhishek Majumdar has even illustrated this on the album cover. Even though the band has six members, their individual and unique sounds blend perfectly with each other. Not one musician seems excessive and while the band has undergone several changes in line-up, it seems like these musicians have worked with each other for ages. The names of the tracks could have been more creative but with this E.P, the Big Bang Blues have cemented their place in the Indian Blues scene. Hopefully the next album and future songs will be more imaginatively titled. Will they become as famous as Soulmate or be around for as long as Chronic Blues Circus has? We can only wait and watch.
Anusmita Datta, WTS Bangalore