Saturday, March 29, 2014

Shotgun Rebellion - Shotgun Rebellion

Shotgun Rebellion, 2014

By Phillip Smith; March 29, 2014

This self-produced, self-titled, thirteen track album by Shotgun Rebellion fell into my awareness quite unexpectedly and I have to say, it pretty much bowled me over.  These guys elevate Southern Rock to a whole new level, by introducing fearsome guitar licks, emphatic beats, powerful vocals and wild-west imagery along with an arsenal of all-original songs.  Rooted in Oklahoma, Shotgun Rebellion features vocalist Rick Davis, bassist Jon Parr, drummer Johnni Walker, and to top things off, guitarist extraordinaire Randy “The Arsonist” Cooper formerly of Texas Hippie Coalition. 

“Lost My Way”, gets the album kick-started with a combination of vocals and guitar which reminds me a lot of Black Rain era Ozzy with Zakk Wylde, sans the British accent.  Davis and Cooper knock this one out of the ballpark.  The album only gets better.  I really like the infectious groove on “Squeeze My Shotgun”.  This double entendre titled party anthem takes me back a couple of decades to Guns N’ Roses (original lineup).  The song is pure no-nonsense rock with smile-inducing guitar play and crashing cymbals.  Another track that seems to emit that GNR vibe is “Pain and Misery”.  I can’t help but think of Black Oak Arkansas when I hear Davis’s voice on this song, and its successor “Train of Pain”.  Davis’s singing and style reminds me a lot of JimDandyMangrum from BOA.   While on the subject of Jim Dandy,  I want to mention another song I really like,   “Just as Good a Day to Die”, a heady little ballad that falls right into the BOA wheelhouse. It’s as if it was written as a follow-up to the song “Lord Have Mercy on My Soul”.    

I detect a bit of Charlie Daniels inspiration when I listen to “Devils Home Brew” as Davis spins the tale of a moonshining witch.  The cool factor runs high on this eerie tale which tells us ‘there is nothing you can do once you get a taste of the Devil’s home brew’.   

Right up there on top of my list of favorite tracks are “Roll On” and “BadmansGUN”.  “Roll On”, plainly put, is one hell of a good song. Walker and Parr set up a really cool hallway of rhythm for Davis and Cooper to maneuver their way through. Then there is old-West themed ballad, “BadmansGUN”, which is sung from the view point of a man dying from a gunshot wound, and interjected with little bits of dialog and effects.  Sitting in on piano is Michael Miers, a friend of the band. One of the more interesting moments captured in the song is when everything gets quiet, and we hear just the piano, an acoustic guitar, and Johnni Walker softly whistling.     

Shotgun Rebellion not only captures my attention at the beginning, but it holds on to it until the end.  This album is quite impressive, and I hope we will be hearing a lot more from these guys in the future.  I believe we will.     

Special note :  Wes Wallace (also formerly of Texas Hippie Coalition) was added to the band full time about a month ago. So although he didn't appear on the album, he will be touring with them.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

South Memphis String Band - Home Sweet Home : From The Archives #10

Memphis Int'l,  2010

By Phillip Smith; April 24, 2010

Home Sweet Home, the debut release by The South Memphis String Band pays serious homage to early twentieth century Mississippi delta string and jug bands.   Channeling the likes of Gus Cannon, Missisppi John Hurt, and The Memphis Jug Band , musicians Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, Black Crowes), Alvin “Youngblood” Hart and Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers) share the common experience of  being good friends, and having family connections and/or roots in the Memphis and North Mississippi area.   With an arsenal of instruments which include guitars, banjos, harmonicas, steel guitars, and mandolins, The South Memphis String Band helps the listener transgress to a slower and simpler time.

Sometimes, music can trigger the same feelings and emotions one experiences with ‘comfort foods’.  This album, I have realized,  has become one of my comfort foods.  Home Sweet Home is a melting pot, taking tried and true ingredients such as delta blues, gospel and folk music and slow simmering it into a Sunday family dinner.  I love the fact that The South Memphis String Band is consistent in style with each of its songs, yet allowing each to shine on its own accord. 

This is true.  Almost every morning, there is a song stuck in my head upon awakening.  Several times, that song has been “Deep Blue Sea”.  It‘s infectious.  Other cuts deserving mention are “Bootleggers Blues” and “Old Hen”.  Both are a little country-fried and dripping with authenticity.  Listening to the vocals dance around the banjo in “Old Hen”, just puts a big smile on my face.  I relished  “Worry Bout Your Own Backyard” as well, for its bluesy vocals and its wise lyrics, “Stop worrying about the whole world, and start worrying about your own backyard.”. 

 Home Sweet Home is a soulful experience and with each listen of  “Let Your Light Shine On Me”, I want to clap my hands and yell ‘Hallelujah!’

Rating =  4/5

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - Give the People What They Want

Daptone Records, 2013

By Phillip Smith; March 15, 2014

Give the People What They Want, by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings is my favorite album of the year so far.  Produced by Dap-King bassist, Bosco Mann, the album is an outstanding collection of energy-infused rhythm and blues music with soulful vocals backed by a tight rhythm section.  It’s very reminiscent of the music of James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and Motown in its heyday.  Music like this seemed to fade away in the late Seventies.  As the times changed, the musical tastes and trends changed as well, leaving a huge gaping hole in the music industry.  Thank goodness we have Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings to fill that void.  

Two of my favorite tracks are written by Mann.  The first being ”Retreat!”, is lush and vibrant, with a cool bass line and a catchy rhythm.  Jones’ vocals here are amazing and full of conviction. Second, there is “Stranger to My Happiness”.  I love the saxophone riffs laid down by Cochemea Gastelum and Neal Sugarman. They make the song what it is.

Another go-to song, “Now I see”, written by Dap-King drummer Homer Steinweiss, is really one of the most interesting songs I’ve heard in a while.  Kicking off with a trumpet intro and a steady tempo, the song periodically switches gears, shifting the mood to a feeling of pending doom, as Jones sings about dealing with a longtime friend turned enemy.  It’s fun the way these little snippets segue from a gloomy and foreboding gear into an up-tempo, ska-like beat.

Back to back songs, “Making Up and Breaking Up” and “Get Up, Get Out” seem to go hand in hand with each other, in theme as well as style.  Both seemingly inspired by Sixties girl groups like Martha and the Vandellas and the Marvelletes, pay a wonderful homage to the sound with harmonizing vocals provided by the Dapettes, Starr Duncan, Saundra Williams, and Sheron Lafaye.  These two songs sound so nice, and love their placement next to each other.

So, if the question still lingers as to whether Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings Give the People What They Want or not, the answer is “Absolutely, mission accomplished!”.    They are a sheer delight to hear.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Kent Burnside - My World is So Cold

Lucky 13 Recordings, 2013

By Phillip Smith; March 8, 2014

After touring and playing with Jimbo Mathus for over a year, Kent Burnside (Grandson of R.L. Burnside) has decided to take the next step, form his own band, and introduce his own brand of Blues music, served up trance-style.  Thank goodness he did.  His debut album, My World is So Cold, is quite good.  Joining front man singer/guitarist Burnside in the studio is guitarist J.J. Holiday, keyboardist Eddie “Cheneddie” Baytos, bassist Justin Valdivia, and David Gray Kimbrough on drums and percussion. 

A funky backing rhythm, along with Burnside’s raw vocals and slide guitar, make “Country Boy” a fun and interesting album opener. One of the more interesting selections is his cover of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”, first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf.  Burnside injects a bus load of soul into the song and does a tremendous job of tackling this one.  I love the way he sprinkles these little bluesy licks of psychedelia into the song, which sound like little globs of backwards masking.              
Burnside brings it down to a sad slow sway with title track, “My World is So Cold”, about being tossed aside by his woman, and the hurt that goes along with being alone.  When this one plays, I just want to close my eyes, and listen.  I love the way it slowly builds to a climax bringing all the musicians together in a beautifully constructed jam.  Another slow and emotional song is “I Miss You”, written for his grandpa. The first half of the song is performed acoustically with the only sounds coming from Burnside and his guitar. Later,  the rest of the band join in, bringing a touch of electricity with them.  While on the subject of his grandfather, Burnside, again pays homage, playing R.L’s song “Miss Maybelle”.  You can hear the family trademark sound coming through on this one. Burnside tears it up on the guitar, and Baytos hammers the ivories in this powerful cover.
Like Sly Stone with a case of the blues, Burnside delivers a fantastic performance on “Walkin’ Blues”, the final track on My World is So Cold.  I love the funky guitar riffs, and the infectious rhythm. This track may be my favorite, but making that call was tough, as I found all the songs to be outstanding.  I really do look forward to hearing more from Kent Burnside

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Reverend Horton Heat - REV

Victory Records, 2014

By Phillip Smith; March 2, 2014

Being a long-time fan of Reverend Horton Heat, I am thrilled to death to have a whole new batch of fast paced, fuel guzzling rock and roll songs to embrace, in the form of their new album, REV.  I am also glad to see front man Jim Heath and upright bassist Jimbo Wallace joined once again by Scott Churilla on drums, reuniting this holy trinity of modern rockabilly. 

Kicking the album, REV off is a fiery instrumental called, “Victory Lap”.  Reminiscent of the kick-ass surf guitar tracks Dick Dale is known for, it segues seamlessly into the following song, “Smell of Gasoline”.  “Smell of Gasoline” is a contagious song about a teenage girl with a fondness for the scent of petroleum, and is drawn to one guy in particular over all her other suitors because of her guilty pleasure.  While on the subject of women in song, I really like “Hardscrabble Woman” which tells the story of a pistol packing Calamity Jane type tough gal who packs her own loads, runs around with a tough crew, and is a sure-shot with a hammer.  Hardscrabble Woman could very well be the same gal who loves the smell of gasoline after packing on a few years.  The backing harmonies on this throwback to fifties western music, paint the song representatively in Grand Ole Opry fashion.  Heath breaks out the raunch ‘n’ roll with “Let Me Teach You How to Eat”.  This fun rockabilly romp is spattered with innuendos and double entendres, with a fistful of punk thrown in.

Reverend Horton Heat is a genius, when it comes to setting a daunting tone.  “Spooky Boots”, about an aging lovelorn biker who been pining for the return of a woman who left him nearly forty-five years ago, is so interesting in how it mixes Swing with Western.   In the fashion of the Munsters theme song, the good Rev brings us “Zombie Dumb”.  The song features twangy surf riffs and captivating ‘the natives are getting restless’ style drum beats from Churilla, all on top of lyrics solely composed of the words in the title spoken in a deep haunting voice.  

REV is a true delight and a thrilling listen from beginning to end.  Thanks to Don Jamieson for bringing this album to my attention via his February 8th pick of the week on VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show.