Voodoo Nation is the fourth album from California's Supersonic Blues Machine and the second with British vocalist/guitarist Kris Barras. Gorgeously produced by bassist Fabrizio Grossi, it balances gritty, even incendiary playing with polished behind-the-boards technique. Like its predecessors, the 12-song set features SBM's now trademark bumper crop of guest spots from top-shelf guitar slingers, including Sonny Landreth, Charlie Starr (Blackberry Smoke), Eric Gales, Joe Louis Walker, Ana Popovic, Kirk Fletcher, King Solomon Hicks, and Josh Smith. SBM deliver the first three tracks and the title number on their own. It's an opportunity to assess their studio sound with Barras, who joined just before 2019's Road Chronicles: Live!
In opening track "Money," blues-tinged hard-rocking guitars are framed in edgy rhythm & blues and gospel. Kenny Aronoff's funky backbeat drives a call-and-response delivery between Barras and a layered backing chorus by Francis Benitez and Andrea Grossi-Benitez. Alex Alessandroni, Jr. (son of film composer and arranger Alessandro Alessandroni) lends a pumping piano and functions as a fourth member here. "Coming Thru" is filthy blues-funk, underscored by guest Fabio "Il Puma" Treves on harmonica amid squalling guitars and basses. Harlem blues guitar god King Solomon Hicks assists on the spiky, Robin Trower-esque "You and Me." On the bridge and refrain, Barras and the chorus offer a militant insistence that recalls Pink Floyd's chorale delivered on The Wall. Landreth brings his iconic slide guitar to "8 Ball Lucy," the set's first single. With swampy, spooky interplay between his slide, electric piano, and a filthy bass line, it shifts from darkly hued blues-rock to reggae in the refrain. Landreth fills and accents each line, embellishes cadences, and delivers a thoroughly unhinged solo. Walker appears on "Is It All" playing guitar and sharing lead vocals with Barras. A soul-rocker, it simultaneously channels the early Isley Brothers (the timbre in Walker's voice is remarkably similar to Ron Isley's), Mandrill, and Curtis Mayfield. The backing chorus resonates with conviction. Popovic's performance on "Do It Again" reflects her hard-rocking blues-metal pedigree and explodes with her wiry, overdriven solo. "I Will Let Go" offers the Albert King-influenced guitar stylings of Compton's Kirk Fletcher. His deeply melodic style weds insistent, soul-drenched fills to Barras' punchy blues-rock vamp. The twinning of lead guitar and B-3 under Barras' whiskey vocal is transcendent. The title track is a nasty, riff-driven rocker straddling blues and funk as it roars and wrangles over seven minutes. Closer "All Our Love" with Starr uses Americana as a jumping-off point, but punches and staggers its way toward biting blues roots rock. Voodoo Nation reveals that Supersonic Blues Machine's now de rigueur guest lists aren't a gimmick -- they're an aesthetic. It offers musical diversity, expanding their group's sonic and stylistic palette exponentially. Their guests don't carry the proceedings -- all songs were written by SBM -- but embellish the trio's manifold approach to rhythm, harmony, texture, and dynamic. As such, Voodoo Nation is their finest outing to date.