Vanja Sky

Bad Penny

(Ruf Records)

Ruf is a label has always had talented females on their roster. Vanja is from Zagreb in Croatia and started playing guitar five years ago. These recordings are the result of sessions in Stantonville and in Berlin with the renowned and experienced Mike Zito and Sky credits him with endless tips and help in getting these cuts down. Key players on the record include bassists Terry Dry and Dave Smith plus drummers Matthew Johnson and Yonrico Scott. Also featured – Zito himself on guitar and Freddie King Band cohort Lewis Stephens.

Opening with a favourite Rory Gallagher number Bad Penny isn’t a bad move. Vanja plays this with purpose and a strident guitar tone, her raspy voice putting the song over. Unhurried but intense, she sells the song and keeps the guitar motifs keen.

On to Hard Working Woman with its chugging beat and piano evoking vintage Leon Russell. Vanja puts her all into the singing while a stew of funky guitars tread the changes. Next up Hit Me With The Blues hits a choppy, moody vibe, holding much back for the song build. The vocal is softer, sexier and appealing. Still that rasp in there, though. The Hammond is superbly handled and the guitar is kept clean and light.

Low Down And Dirty was put down at a session with Jim Gaines. It’s a Bernard Allison tune. Wonderful slide guitar which sure sounds like Mike Zito – having played alongside him on one of my lucky nights – and Bernard takes some of the verses. Vanja matches him for raunch and this does sound like a fun session, indeed!

All Night takes a funk drum pattern and scratchy toppy guitar, almost a punky vocal that works very well. Shows she can move from mode to mode and is a fan of different styles of music. Best vocal on the set, for this listener and this one will be played a lot around here. The axework on this has such a direct sound ! Inside Pain has cinematic arpeggio chording and a desolate ambience – stay or go, in theme. The arrangement is stunning, the guitar restrained to let the singing ring out. At the end, instead of an OTT guitar break, gentle chord inversions take the tune out. Brilliant!! Give Me Back My Soul is a grinding boogie, guitars ringing out.

Lost Love takes its time, over a gentle backdrop and singing that avoids histrionics. And lets the lyric through, with measured guitar breaks. Do You Wanna? is a brisk funk item, could be a fine set-opener. Married Man reeks of regret and deep thoughts, vocal to suit. The bass and drums on this conjure up a shadowy sleaziness entirely in keeping with the lyric, masterful stuff. Don’t Forget To Rock’n’Roll is all-electric with cool wahwah and gritty rhythm guitar reeking if Texas. The collection ends with Crossroads Of Life and its slide-drenched heartbeat tempo. It’s about choices and somehow reminds me of Z Z Ward, surely a kindred soul?

A wide-ranging set by a talented songstress and for me a Track Of The Year in Inside Pain. Worth a good listen, this album.

Pete Sargeant


(Thanks to RUF Records and Proper)

Vanja Sky's new album 'Bad Penny' is out now on RUF Records. 

In addition, Vanja will be touring the UK in April 2018 as part of RUF Records 'Blues Caravan 2018' tour. For tour dates and more information visit the label's official website here:

Vanja Sky