Album Review: Bonnie & The Groove Cats – ‘Feelgood’

…You know what? I don’t feel like reviewing metal or hard rock this time. They might be my comfort zones, but there’s far more to music than just them and I feel I need something else to talk about for once in my life, so I’m going to cover something that came out last week which isn’t in the metal or hard rock genres of music.

So here’s Bonnie & The Groove Cats, a female-fronted rock n roll revival band from Switzerland. They’re a band who have been around since 2012 and previously released two records: 2013’s Go Cat Go and 2014’s A Little Piece of R‘n’R. There’s not a huge amount of information about them that’s in English, so my research is a bit limited into the band, but, from what I’ve been able to gather, they have had a fairly consistent lineup in the years since their forming. They might be faintly familiar to fans of blues and rock n roll music due to their 2013 cover of ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’, a song that has been covered by iconic bands like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith (among others), but, in the English speaking world, chances are good that Bonnie & The Groove Cats are not going to be that familiar to most people.

Which probably makes me one of the first people to give these guys a review in English (certainly, I didn’t see any in my brief search to check this). I know, I wish it had been someone cooler to get that honor as well, not some dorky idiot who listens to far too much metal music and talks about games nobody cares about…

Anyway, Feelgood is the band’s third record and their first one on their own label, Groove Cat Records. Honestly, I think this is a fun record that maybe isn’t going to set the world on fire, but, for those wanting to hear some rock n roll music that isn’t old enough to be complaining about kids being on its lawn…well, I don’t know if there’s any other options (the closest I can think of are The Overtones, and they’re more doo wop than rock n roll), but I can’t say this isn’t going to fill a hole in your soul all the same!

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One of the first things that really needs praise is the band’s authenticity to their sound. Most people tend to forget that rock n roll was basically a combination of blues, folk, jazz and country (among others), so a lot of rock n roll imitators tend to feel like they’re lacking something because they copy the obvious stuff without looking at the little things behind it all that gave it a bonus spark of life. That doesn’t happen with Bonnie & The Groove Cats: not only does the record have a lot of variety that shows an appreciation for the wide variety of genres that came together to form rock n roll, but the band manages to balance it all in a way that doesn’t feel too much like the band are writing to a formula like a mere imitator would. While some more modern touches give the game away that the record is not an actual old school record (most noticeably, the songs are a little bit longer than a truly authentic rock n roll song would be and the production is still in the modern style rather than the “one take onto tape” style that rock n roll originally used because…well, that’s pretty much how it had to be done in those days!), you could be forgiven for thinking that the record is a remastered old school record if you weren’t listening carefully!

The songwriting across the album is fairly unadventurous in terms of their structures, but it is somewhat excusable, considering rock n roll is a genre which wasn’t really breaking any barriers on that front (on the cultural front, though, it shattered a huge amount of barriers!). The songs themselves don’t suffer from this fact at all, though: in fact, I think it helps with the authenticity a bit, since roll n roll wasn’t really a genre where twenty minute long epics were practical (you couldn’t have had a band like Dream Theater back in the 50s, if you get the point I’m making!). The songs have a lot of variety to them, with some songs having influence from genres as wide as folk (‘Dank a Dich’), gospel (the opening of ‘Mr. Feelgood’), funk and soul (‘Old Tune’) while the expected rockers still can be heard (‘Kill Me Babe’, ‘Coming Back’ and ‘Rock It Down to the Bones’). It’s all handled very well and, while I do think the band stumbles a bit on ‘Mandy and Julie’ (and, by the same token, ‘Brueder and Schwoschter’, which is just the same song in German) and ‘Kill My Dreams’ could have done with a bit of trimming down, the vast majority of the record is at least worth hearing once. I think my personal picks for favourite tracks would be ‘Dank a Dich’ (what can I say, I love the folk elements…), ‘Kill Me Babe’ and ‘Summertime’, but there’s nothing I disliked.

Bonnie’s vocals are surprisingly varied across the record, with some songs where she is singing very confidently and with more than a bit of power and some where she takes a more whispery style. I really like that she adjusts her voice to suit the songs and doesn’t go for just the same approach with every song (which is one of my complaints with a lot of modern rock vocalists), as it offers some variety to her performance. She does have a VERY noticeable accent to her voice, but I actually like it, as it allows her voice to stand out compared to a lot of the old rock n roll records that have clearly influenced the band. Her vocal range isn’t going to wow anyone, but she certainly doesn’t give a bad performance or struggle with the material at all. Overall, no complaints from me!

The rest of the band’s performances are more noteworthy for their authenticity to the rock n roll genre than because they’re technically amazing, but the members are clearly talented and get opportunities to shine across the record in ways which won’t necessarily blow away people familiar with genres where high technical skill is the norm, like progressive rock, but which certainly shows that the band are comprised of talented musicians. There’s nothing here you haven’t heard before, but the band definitely know what they’re doing and there’s no performance that I felt was bad, so…yeah, long story short, nothing new, but not badly done either!

The production of the record is honestly a lot closer to what I like to hear on the production front, with the mastering being very tastefully restrained without necessarily being quiet and the bass being very audible without being overpowering. The sound of the record does feel a bit strange to me due to it having been recorded digitally as opposed to recorded on analogue, which contrasts quite impressively compared to the authentic old school sound of the record, but, well, there’s some things you can’t really do nowadays without it costing a fortune and all for something that most people won’t notice, so that’s excusable. The actual sound of the record is genuinely pretty solid and is backed up with some great mixing that, while occasionally slipping up on the louder songs (‘Kill Me Baby’ and ‘Rock It Down to the Bone’ can come across as having a very crowded mix), is mostly able to balance everything very well indeed. Hats off to everyone on the production front of this record!

Ultimately, there’s very little that I dislike about Feelgood and it has some pretty good songs on here that I’ll be happily listening to for a good while. If you’re a fan of rock n roll at all and don’t mind modern production practices, then this is more than worth a look into! It’s not doing anything new, but that doesn’t stop it from being a very enjoyable listen all the same!

Feelgood was released on the 8th of April by Groove Cat Records.