chance in hell coverMelbourne songstress Crystal Thomas has woken up in too many emergency ward beds for her own good. Next time you or I do the same, let this album be playing in the background.

Is "A Chance In Hell" cathartic, method acting or just too honest for its own good? Maybe all three, but if Crystal pulled a cheap shot and changed her surname to "Meth" her music would still have substance. (And there's a potential pun in there somewhere.) This CD is one intense ride with Ms Thomas fronting an all-star band whose palette ranges from breathy, swamp-bluesy confessionals to dirty, acrid rockers.

Opener "The Dread" summons up inky greatness from the get-go. As industrial-strength distortion gives way to lighter chording, Thomas' emotive vocal paints pictures of a lost night of pharmaceutical interactions and a ride in an ambulance instead of a taxi:

"I've got a drip in the back of my hand/And it's filling up with blood".

Now, that's not the stuff you expect even if you're on top private health cover. Spencer P. Jones helped pen it and he's all over this record - especially in the neat guitar figure of the relatively jaunty "I Could Die Right Now" and the brutally funky "La Mort." For all his diversions, the man really is one of the under-appreciated statesman of a still fertile Melbourne music scene. The production by Jones and Matt Walker is superb.

Geographically-speaking, Crystal Thomas is from Sydney but her music is a product of a move to the seedy Melbourne suburb of St Kilda. This sort of record couldn't be birthed in The Harbour City anymore. Its undercurrent is too dark, too raw and couldn't be sustained there. It's not a total downer of an album - it has lighter and rocky moments - and the reflective songs like "The Dry" and "Silence #2" pack a prime punch via emotional intensity, not volume.

Listening to "Judas Lamp" I thought I was playing the new Patti Smith record. Crystal Thomas is on par as a singer who moves through musical light and shade with adeptness.

Matt Walker, Spencer and Matt Green provide the guitars and it's a pleasure to hear them grinding up against each other or sliding in and out of the mix. Their hand is not over-played. Which sums up this record. Pursue it without fear.


Off The Hip