Ottawa’s Princess of Soul, Bella Cat, gave listeners a power-packed performance inside the Bluesville Stage tent at Bluesfest Sunday afternoon. She is another one of those artists that once you discover her, you cannot help but become an instant fan. Freshly back from her western Canadian tour in support of her second album, “It’s Not What It Looks Like”, Bella Cat and her band of six gave the crowd a taste of classically written blues, soul, and R&B that transported us back to the speakeasies of New Orleans in the 30’s. Bella talks to Apt613 about her latest album, her tour, and how she came to be named the Princess of Soul:
“I wrote all my own lyrics and melodies. I was really lucky to have met Lindi Ortega’s guitar player one day, and he wrote all the music to this new album. His name is Champagne James Robertson, and he’s one of the best guitar players I know. The album was recorded in Chicago. It’s got Aretha Franklin’s and Chaka Khan’s backup singers, and Marvin Gaye’s guitar player. There’s a bonus track which we are releasing with James Brown’s drummer, Clyde Stubblefield, who just passed away. He put his hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eye and said, “darlin’, you’re the Princess of Soul”. We released the album June 17th and left on our tour June 18th. We headed all the way to Vancouver Island and back, stopping at other places in B.C., Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Revelstoke… all across western Canada.”
Each song she and the band performed had a different flavour, a different tempo, and varied in combinations of blues, soul, jazz, R&B, and even a touch of disco. As versatile as the music is, so is Bella Cat’s voice, which boasts a wide range of colour and style. In the song “Love God”, there’s a slinky sexiness that she sings with the playful sassiness of Amy Winehouse; whereas in “Dead Woman’s Grave”, she reaches into some low-toned Etta James fullness. Her robust voice came through in one called “This Morning” that had textured segments ranging from soft and sultry, to heavier, grittier soul. “Good Girls”, a steady rocking blues number, was given a rich Motown polish with the addition of the horns. In a tremendously powerful version of “Hit The Road Jack”, Bella wrapped her big mama blues voice around the melody, moving from her lower buttery register to belting some gripping high notes and edgy growls.
Another from her new album, “Tonight’s The Night For Freedom”, was heavy in gospel tones, and Bella filled the song with every ounce of her passion. She worked the entire stage that was quickly becoming surrounded by the growing crowd. There were also a couple of slow burning 12-bar blues numbers that were soaked in 30’s torch goodness where she sank her teeth into the raw passion of the song, and unleashed her deep tones, heavy vibrato, and high searing notes that brought a rush of cheers from the audience. I must also give a tip of the hat to guitarist, Daniel Grewall, and Michael Grewall on the Leslie for their great solo work. Also to Matt Aston for showing such great versatility on the drums, and to lead singer of Ottawa band Nile Groove, Roxy Lecuyer, for her fantastic backing vocals.
RBC Bluesfest runs from July 6–16, 2017 at LeBreton Flats. Visit ottawabluesfest.com for the lineup and schedule. Keep checking back for more Apt613 Bluesfest coverage and follow us on Instagram for the latest photos.
For more info on Bella Cat, upcoming shows, and to buy her new album, “It’s Not What It Looks Like”, please visit www.bellacatsoul.com.