Guitarist BJ Block is back with a new album, The Land of Make Believe, recorded in collaboration with singer Dawn Pemberton. It's a departure from Block's last album, Glitterball. That project was instrumental, focused on jazz guitar and electronica grooves. The initial plan for this album was to make another collection of instrumental songs, with some background vocals. Block recruited fellow Vancouver musician Dawn Pemberton to help out. Soon, the project bloomed into a synergy of styles and writing together.
Often, a collaboration involves some degree of surrender: give up this, but add that. In this case, each of these artists maintains their core strengths in parallel. BJ Block's guitar work is smooth, jazzy, and precise. His production and layering are similarly clean. The songs seem to be a reasonable outgrowth from earlier songs like Mersey Beat. At the same time, singer Dawn Pemberton is well known in the Vancouver R&B, soul, and jazz scene. Her songwriting, vocal stylings, and party vibe approach are fundamental to The Land of Make Believe.
The opening notes of Just Be show off Block's distinctive guitar work. This was the first collaboration they worked on and Pemberton's lyrics and retro soul vocals are a natural fit. The lyrical message is reflective of the album as a whole, setting an upbeat, hopeful mood. Like much of the album, the music feels like a late '70s jazz R&B groove. Dawn Pemberton's vocal timbre is different, but the song feels like some of Joan Armatrading's earlier work.
The album hits its stride with the funk soul of You Happy? featuring a kid's voice sample (John John on Sesame Street). The groove is snapping, with a Steve Wonder feel, especially the ending section. The flow continues into a richer funk with Everybody's Party, which feels like Boxing Gandhis. The bass work is especially nice. Up and Down continues the good time and features my favorite guitar solo on the album.
The Land of Make Believe is a very enjoyable retro jazz soul treat. My only disappointment is how far I am from Vancouver, which means I probably won't get to hear any live performances from this well matched pair. The music calls for a clean taste: maybe a simple vodka tonic with a touch of lime.