The initial spark for 'Shade' came via the mojo spirit of blues' pioneer Robert Johnson who possessed Living Colour's soul during a performance at Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre. Roaring through an electrically charged cover of Johnson's classic "Preachin' Blues," Living Colour moved both the audience and themselves.
"That was really the beginning of us thinking of the direction we want to take for our next project," says Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid. "Hearing that blend of blues and metal was really what got the wheels turning."
'Shade,' their first album since the critically acclaimed 'The Chair in the Doorway' in 2009, is Living Colour at the height of their creative powers, still experimenting as though they were upstarts instead of seasoned veterans. While the blues served as the foundation for the collection, one shouldn't expect to hear the "down-home" style that was once the soundtrack of sharecroppers and southern juke joints before the music rode the rails north during the Great Migration. Living Colour's blues incorporate a myriad of influences, while speaking to the politically-charged climate of the times.
"What better way to talk to the world than through the blues?" vocalist Corey Glover asks. "We recorded 'Preachin' Blues' several times to jump start the project and that got everybody fired up. After that, we were ready. 'Shade,' in its final outcome, is more of a deconstruction of the blues than an interpretation. It was the idiom that gave us our voice."
Produced by Andre Betts—who first worked with Living Colour on their album 'Stain' in 1993—he would spend five years in the studio with the band perfecting the project. Initially introduced to Living Colour by their bassist Doug Wimbish, Betts was more than ready to face the challenge of working with such perfectionists.
"Making records is an art and a process, and sometimes it can be easier to herd cats," Wimbish laughs. “But, when it connects and we come together, it's a beautiful thing. 'Shade' is a testimony to who Living Colour is, to our chameleon quality."
Without a doubt, that quality comes across clearly on the 13-track effort. 'Shade' is a sonic journey that careens from the furor of "Blak Out," an old school thrasher that struts with a gangster boogie to "Program," a searing, socially-spiked cocktail that nods to the band's iconic hit "Cult of Personality." Stand-out tracks such as the acid funk balladry of "Two Sides" (complete with a guest appearance by George Clinton) and the afro-punk fireworks of "Glass Teeth," prove Corey Glover's vocals to be stronger than ever, while Vernon Reid, long acknowledged as one of the most creative guitarists in modern rock, lives up to his reputation on album opener "Freedom Of Expression (F.O.X.)" and the soul blues of "Who's That?" Drummer Will Calhoun points to "Invisible," which pays homage the late Buddy Miles, among his favorites on the album.
"When we were starting out, Buddy came to every show we did in Chicago," Calhoun says of the drummer who played with Jimi Hendrix (Band of Gypsys) and Carlos Santana. "He was a great friend of the group. Buddy Miles is such an unsung drummer who had the power of a locomotive. Buddy's style is a thousand percent on this record."
A connecting thread between the aforementioned covers of Robert Johnson's "Preachin’ Blues" and Biggie's "Who Shot Ya?," is an evocative reading of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues," which slides seamlessly between syncopated rhythm & blues and urgent hard rock.
While other veteran rockers are content with life on the road, Living Colour relish working on new material together. 'Shade' is a testament to that spirit. Through the four members combined talent and friendship, they've explored the blues and its incarnations, musically as well as emotionally, and delivered an album that not only speaks to where they are as a band approaching their third decade together, but reflects back the world in these troubled times.
"To me, there seems to be a shadow cast across our collective lives. We can either allow it to oppress us or we can shine a light on it," concludes Reid. "'Shade' is the sound of a band coming to terms with the shadows and shining a light by using the blues as a mirror."
1. Freedom of Express (F.O.X.)
2. Preachin' Blues
3. Come On
5. Who Shot Ya
6. Always Wrong
7. Blak Out
8. Pattern In Time (Skin In The Game)
9. Who's That
10. Glass Teeth
12. Inner City Blues
13. Two Sides
June 22 - Rochester, NY - Martin Luther King Jr. Park at Manhattan Square
June 24 - Lake Linden, MI - Kuparisaari Art/Music Festival
July 8 - Pleasantville, NY - Pleasantville Music Festival
July 30 - Rochester, MN - Down by the Riverside Concert Series at Mayo Park
August 19 - Hampton, VA - Downtown Hampton Block Party
September 2 - New Lenox, IL - Triple Play Concert Series
September 8 - Eindhoven, NL - City Rock Festival
September 9 - Leeuwarden, NL - City Rock Festival
September 10 - Manheim, DE - MS Connexion Complex
September 12 - Munich, DE - Backstage Halle
September 14 - Vienna, AT - Porgy & Bess
September 15 - Bologna, IT - Zona Roveri
September 16 - Rome, IT - Orion
September 17 - Bellusco, IT - Bloom
September 19 - Solothurn, CH - Kofmehl
September 20 - Bochum, DE - Matrix
September 21 - Vaureal, FR - Le Forum
September 26 - Glasgow, UK - The Garage
September 27 – Wolverhampton, UK – Robin2
September 28 - Leeds, UK - Brudenell Social Club
September 29 - Nottingham, UK - Rescue Rooms
September 30 - Manchester, UK - Club Academy
October 1 - London, UK - ULU
October 4 - Norwich, UK - Waterfront
October 6 - Liverpool, UK - Hangar34
October 7 - Newcastle, UK - Riverside