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On first glance, the line-up on Shame Engine / Blood Pleasure, the seventh studio album from Chicago’s Health&Beauty, might indicate a passing of the torch. The recording features a large cast of musicians from the outfit’s past and its present helping the band’s founder and sole constant Brian J Sulpizio achieve his idiosyncratic vision—a sound and ethos he’s been kicking around, retooling, and finessing for more than 15 years, a few years after moving to Chicago from his native Defiance, Ohio in 2000. From song to song the band’ssound encapsulates detail-rich pop songs, extended jamming inspired by Chicago’s free jazz legacy, and devastatingly potent country-folk tunes. Sulpizio has never been hung up on genre, but his imagination and musicianship has allowed him to bring far-flung ideas to beautiful fruition.
A good chunk of the beautifully scorching new album was cut right after a quartet version of the group—with guitarist Jake Acosta, drummer Seth Vanek, and bassist Bill Satek—had finished an intensive three-week tour at the end of 2017. The new album conveys a directness and scorching power that seems to stem from the band’s live performances, whether the harrowing, droning blues of the opener “Saturday Night” or the soulful Irish-tinged folk-rock of “Recourse.” In reality, Shame Engine / Blood Pleasureis simply the latest chapter in an evolving tome, but it’s absolutely the most gripping and satisfying instalment in that process yet.
Over time many musicians have collaborated with Sulpizio—some in short bursts, others, like keyboardist Ben Boye and drummer Frank Rosaly, over the long haul—and the new record includes some fresh faces. Sulpizio is that rare beast with a keen ear for detail—no doubt a byproduct of his frequent work as an engineer and producer for some of Chicago’s most beloved bands—as well as an abiding love for the spontaneity and heated interaction of live gigs. His epic improvisational abilities have been a constant in the bands led by Ryley Walker—where the guitarist cemented his bonds with both Boye and Rosaly— but he’s always focused on serving the band rather than grandstanding. Even within Health&Beauty he frequently cedes lead guitar duties to others: check out Acosta’s post-Eddie Hazel fantasias on “Saturday Night.”
Shame Engine / Blood Pleasure, like its predecessors, is undeniably the product of his fertile mind, but it wouldn’t sound the way it does without the input and ideas of his collaborators. “We all have too much to gain by working with as many people as makes musical sense to us, and I really enjoy having Health&Beauty records run a wide musical gamut,” explains Sulpizio of the peripatetic line-ups of the band over time. “I've loved working with everyone I've played with over the years. Some versions of Health&Beauty seemed to live out a natural lifespan; some may come back together again. I really can't express enough how grateful I am to get to make music with the people I've worked with. Their contributions amaze me, ranging up to songwriting. Making music, going to shows or sessions or rehearsals, is joy and catharsis for me.”
Love Can Be Kind