CD Review: Sonja Lee Band

Sonja Lee Band
Blues Demo

The Sonja Lee Band (taking from the Dave Matthews band school of naming conventions) is a local blues and jazz group fronted by Sonja Lee. With a voice that’s all at once Etta James, Janis Joplin and Joan Osbourne, Sonja‘s silky vocals snake their way through the serviceable backing band composed of with Robert Ray on bass, Thomas Harris on saxophone,  Grant Wilson on percussion, Steven Faucher on guitar and Julianne Thoma on keys.  Despite the wide variety of ages involved, the sound of the group is mature, refined and even a bit docile.
On “Blues Demo – Live and in the Studio,” the Sonja Lee Band has compiled a mix of live recordings and unreleased demos that didn’t quite make it onto their 2012 release “Telling It Like It Is…”. The live cuts are culled from a performance at Boundary Bay Brewery, and though they suffer from some minor compression artifacts, the recordings have enough air in them to create the classic jazz club sound. From the muted bass-lines on “Feeling Alright” to the clever lyrics on “Love Me Like a Man,” the group delivers a solid jazz performance with enough blues that even casual listeners could enjoy it.
Despite all this, there isn’t anything that quite makes these tracks stand out on their own. As a demo release, clearly these are the weaker of the bunch, but it makes one wonder what they bring to the table. “Servicable” is the word that first comes to mind, the kind of music you could put on and no one would complain, but no one would dance either. Traditional almost to a fault, the saving grace is Sonja’s flexible vocal delivery, which helps the jazz bits sound a little bit less like an exercise and more like a full band. In a world where Fitz and the Tantrums, Amy Whinehouse and Adele dominate the neo-soul throwback stream, it sounds like the Sonja Lee Band would benefit from something that separates them from their influences.
–Charlie Walentiny