Tulsa’s favorite sons Pilgrim return with their tongue-in-cheek offering No Offense,Nevermind, Sorry. If you’re hunting for excuses, then you won’t find them here. This is an unashamed nod and authentic forage into the undergrowth of the Tulsa sound made popular by J.J. Cale with its mix of country, rockabilly and blues.
It’s a grueling thought even trying to pin this album to a specific genre, but it never falls far from the Oklahoma tree, or to be even more to the source – its main root. Frontman and guitarist, Beau Roberson is blessed with an incredibly diverse set of influences ranging from Willie Nelson and Aretha Franklin to Bob Dylan and War. The respective ‘Greatest Hits’ collections of the latter two artists were the first two CDs he ever bought, again both renowned for their rich and varied back catalogues.
Recorded at Leon Russell’s former Paradise Studio at Grand Lake in Tia Juana, Oklahoma, the album brings together a string of high-caliber musicians to create just short of a dozen eloquent songs. Profound tales of atonement, treachery, grief, and love provide the emotive canvas for Roberson to power home his passionate vocals.
The second single “Darkness Of The Bar” kicks off proceedings with that trademark Tulsa honesty about the struggles that come with addiction and trying to find a sense of acquiescence with the truth. The suffering continues into “Out Of Touch” as Roberson whines about becoming an outsider in this romantic betrayal that drips with anguish and some beautiful accordion playing by John Fullbright.
“Down” is driven by an up-beat tempo, melodious chorus, and Fulbright’s atmospheric keyboards, which come to the fore for what could easily be the record’s hit single. “Pray For Me” captures the wealth of veneration that one feels at the birth of a newborn baby, while “Katie” is super sweet like an overindulgence at the pick ‘n’ mix.
Album standout “Lefty” flaunts a wonderful and whispy guitar tone from Roberson, along with some star-spangled saxophone thrown in for good measure. Stomping blues rocker “High On The Banks” completes the one-two punch that transports No Offense, Nevermind, Sorryto another podium.
The lack of originality may not be enough of an apology for some, but if it’s a sincere and delicately crafted set of short musical stories true to the Tulsa sound that you crave, you will find it difficult to unearth better justification elsewhere.
Birthed in the “hushed plaguelands” that once housed Berlin’s nightlife, XTR Human’s new LP, G.O.L.D, evokes the frozen melancholy of a post-pandemic city. The night’s primary currencies, sweat, release, and change, linger as phantoms in this melancholy limbo.
German producer Johannes Stabel, the mastermind behind XTR Human, powerfully performs a narrative of soci0political consciousness auf Deutsch, reflecting his own state of mind and that of Germany itself, evolving through introspection and primal beats alike. Across G.O.L.D’s ten tracks, Stable brings our zeitgeist into a new realm, where the anger and frustration at our current existence is refined into kinetic energy and the desire to move your body. Influenced by the pop hooks of Austrian New Wave legend Falco, the tracks are swaddled in dark beats and political ideals, the album is bursting with catchy hooks and groove-laden rhythms: the perfect philosopher’s metal to transmogrify your existence through driving EBM bass, soaring synth lines and coldwave atmospheres.
This is evident in the above video directed by Clay Adamczyk for the pulsating Maschine, a melodic synth-laden song about mankind’s destructive relationship with the earth. Leben Ohne Licht, directed by Dominik Jureschko / lmtlase studio which translates to “life without light,” is both dark and haunting, and features a mesmerizing collaboration with Luca Gillian (Die Selektion) on backing vocals.
Many of the songs delve into Stabel’s own experiences as a German, from explorations of the Deutsch mentality of persistent fear to tackling the fake news, jingoism, racists, and coronavirus deniers on hypnotic bangers Dark Germany and Dieser Klang. Starker Junge, a dissection of toxic masculinity, drops down onto the listener with sparkling synths and razor-sharp guitar, while capitalist critique Fleisch is a pogo synthpop anthem that could send any floor into a twirling frenzy. The real showstopper on the album is Angst, a Depeche Mode-tinged anthem of anxiety.
This culminates in another video collaboration with director Clay Adamczyk, Wie Ein Gott, a brutal critique of the glorification of violent gun culture, particularly in the United States, and references Richard Connell’s classic short story The Most Dangerous Game.
XTR Human, which began in 2012, is the solo project of Johannes Stabel, who hovers in the sonic realm somewhere between coldwave, EBM, and post-punk…riddled with dystopic ethereal sounds, lofty synth harmonies, powerful bass lines, and piercing vocals.
Robert Finley is a Soul Singer. One who seemingly burst onto the music scene overnight with a voice as distinct and memorable as anyone you will ever hear. His music is critically acclaimed and loved my music fans alike. His latest release, Sharecropper’s Son, is a modern, classic soul release that is a snapshot into Robert’s life. It is emotive and depicts of a lifetime of struggle, determination, and faith. With musical stylings from Blues, Gospel, Soul, and R&B Sharecropper’s Son takes you on a musical journey with Finley at the helm.
Robert has overcome many struggles in his life, but those struggles have refined his character and made him into the artist he is today. Most people would shutter under the devastation of divorce, house fires, an automobile accident, and becoming blind from glaucoma, but not Robert. According to Finley, “Losing my sight gave me the perspective to see my true destiny.” It wasn’t until after Robert had to retire from being a carpenter, that he decided to follow his life-long dream of becoming an artist.
Sharecropper’s Son is Finley’s second release for Easy Eye Sound and has Dan Auerbach returning as producer. Auerbach incorporates a stellar lineup of musicians that help tell Finley’s story. Auerbach emphatically states, “Finley is the greatest living soul singer”. These are big words to live up to, but after one listen, you know you are hearing something special, and Auerbach may very well be right.
Sharecropper’s Son launches with the mid-tempo “Souled Out on You” which instantly showcases the mesmerizing falsetto of Finley and quickly transitions into his raspy soulful voice. The song evolves into an era-specific piece in the late ’60s or early ’70s and is a great introduction to the release.
The next track “Make Me Feel Alright” is a foot stopping, hand clapping track, that makes the listener want to sing-a-long. The song showcases some great slide guitar work and makes you feel alright (pun intended). “Country Child” is a song that tells the story of growing up in the country and wanting to escape a hard life of working in cotton fields by moving to the city. Only to find out that city life isn’t what he thought it would be. It has a swampy bayou feel that reminds one of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The title track “Sharecropper’s Son” is arguably the best song on the album. The song does an amazing job of making you want to dance, which seems like a contradiction to the lyrical content of the song. The song details the hardships of growing up in the deep south and being raised in a sharecropper family. Finley sings “Ain’t no time for education. There’s too much corn in the field. Ain’t no time to go to school ya’ll. We got too much work around here.”
“My Story” is a song of hope and inspiration stating that you are never too old to have dreams or pursue them. Finley has stated “Nobody wanted to hear what I had to say or what I thought about anything. But when I started putting it in songs, people listened.” The release ends with “All My Hope” which has a country gospel feel and is a testament to the Faith that Finley has. It is a song about overcoming the struggles in life and it’s the perfect ending to this story.
Sharecropper’s Son is a fantastic release for listeners who like classic soul, blues or R&B. The release does a masterful job of pulling you in with the music, all while covering heavier topics lyrically. The release gives the listener a sense of Robert’s struggles, while also conveying an uplifting message of hope. The struggles haven’t defined Robert but forged him into the person he is today.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Make Me Feel Alright
– Souled Out on You
– Country Child
– Sharecropper’s Son
It’s a challenge that faces many bands in the genre: you have a significant, iconic back catalogue, audiences who will happily pay to attend your shows having accepted significant line up changes but… what about studio albums? This is a dilemma that Kansas, Yes and many others have faced over the last 20 years as the dynamic of the music business has morphed on account of technology and audience demands. 1984’s live album, Caught in the Act was the marker for the start of fluctuations in the life of Styx, with the 30+ years between then and 2017’s The Mission producing only 3 studio albums of original material. Perhaps that makes it surprising that such a short time later, we have Crash of the Crown, another new studio album about to be released. The Mission was easily the best album the band had produced since the 80s, so let’s see how the follow up measures up…
Well, I’ll cut to the chase: with Crash of the Crown, the band has captured the essence of the band’s greatest musical moments and crafted a classic album that transcends these times. No, it’s not the Co-Vid album because, as the band have said, most of the writing and some of the recording was completed before lockdown. However, the key to great lyric writing is producing words with universal applicability – on that basis, I think many will find this to be an album that speaks to the times but won’t sound like a historic piece when revisited in the future.
For me, one of the strengths of The Mission was the band demonstrating that musical inventiveness and creativity doesn’t need to mean epic length tracks (the longest track here is 4:00 mins long). “The Fight Of Our Lives” kicks things off with a proggy intro of less than 30 seconds, before the magnificent signature vocals of the band kick in, declaring “We will not give in!”… and they’re off! Four part and five part harmonies are something this band takes in its stride and they standout throughout this album. Tommy Shaw’s vocals lead “A Monster”, a track where just when you think you know where it’s going, takes a left turn into a mid section powered by acoustic guitars and mandolins! Todd Sucherman gets a quick drum solo before a dive-bombing JY guitar solo takes us home. The musical inventiveness within this track that lasts for less then three and half minutes is mindblowing. Credit must go to both the band and “seventh man”, producer Will Evankovich, who himself contributes guitars, keyboards, percussion and vocals.
New boy (!) Lawrence Gowan leads “Reveries” and once again, the band’s playing, singing and full range of skills are all on display as the music segues to “Hold Back The Darkness”. With three powerful lead vocalists, the band can craft superb dynamics – an example being this song which begins with Gowan’s voice accompanied by acoustic guitar, before Tommy Shaw’s voice picks up verse 2 with a darker more melancholic edge. An unexpected guest spot from Winston Churchill launches “Save Us From Ourselves”, with Tommy Shaw sounding almost like Don Henley on this one.
The title track is the first time in their catalogue that a Styx track has featured three lead vocalists… JY’s moody baritone gives way to some furious Hammond organ, kicked into touch by a Shaw-led disco section (yes indeed!) , and a classical piano segment; Brian May style multitrack guitar follows, with a vocoder feature and Gowan conjuring memories of Mr Mercury in the final vocal piece. When you see it written down, you could conclude it’s an “everything including the kitchen sink” approach but in fact the shifts and changes in this track are perfectly executed… and they prove to be a great contrast to the more straightforward “Our Wonderful Lives” which follows. Styx with banjos works completely well in this stripped back sing/ clap along track which is as understated as the previous track was overblown – and a shout out to founder Chuck Panozzo’s bass on this one!
The second half, it feels, opens with the Moog intro to “Common Ground”, which is packed full of signature Styx elements, and is followed by “Sound The Alarm” which features some great Shaw/ Gowan duet moments. The short but inventive “Long Live The King” has entirely different sound, including a great 12-string electric guitar riff. The album itself does have an underlying concept of the light at the end of the tunnel, and the dark situations which we sometimes have to go through to reach it. So you have “Long Live The King” among the songs which touch on the more historic aspects, and the Indian-influenced “Coming Out The Otherside” being a very explicit statement of the concept.
Before the closing orchestrations of “Another Farewell”, we have a dazzling “Styx-In-A-Song” epic in “To Those”. Sucherman’s Moon-like drumming on the verse, with Gowan hitting the top of his range is a stand out album moment. The song builds to a majestic chorus and a “stand and be counted” rallying cry.
For a band approaching 50 years since formation, it’s clear that even a global lockdown, cannot hold this line up back. The fresh ideas, creative arrangements and incredible instrumentation are still coming thick and fast and I would go so far as to say this album stands as one of the very finest in their catalogue.
Released on June 18th, 2021
Key Tracks: Reveries, Save Us From Ourselves, Crash of the Crown
1. The Fight of Our Lives
2. A Monster
4. Hold Back the Darkness
5. Save Us from Ourselves
6. Crash of the Crown
7. Our Wonderful Lives
8. Common Ground
9. Sound the Alarm
10. Long Live the King
11. Lost at Sea
12. Coming Out the Other Side
13. To Those
14. Another Farewell
Line-up / Musicians
James “JY” Young / lead vocals, guitars
Tommy Shaw / lead vocals, guitars
Chuck Panozzo / bass, vocals
Todd Sucherman / drums, percussion
Lawrence Gowan / lead vocals, keyboards
Ricky Phillips / bass, guitar, vocals
Leave it to a band called The Damn Truth to tell the damn truth. Their version of the modern, pandemic-constrained album release party is an experiment. Picking and choosing their way through a variety of approaches, the band unfurls a distinctive experience that defies categorization. Mostly a livestream concert, the brief interludes between songs during the Now or Nowhere half of the set let the audience get “backstage,” and the camera angles and movements during the performance at times take on the feel of a music video. The result is unique—good unique.
This novel format works because of the band and its musicians. More than just musicians, this is a quartet of humans who are compelling both on-stage and off. Sure, the short docu-clips between songs have been selected for their intrigue and insight into the band’s new album, but not a single word or interaction feels forced. For The Damn Truth, “This Is Who We Are Now” serves not only as a title for a hit single, but also a basic tenet of their lives. They say as much to start the stream.
Interweaving these candid moments without derailing the flow of the set takes a deft hand and a sizable dose of restraint. To make it work, the segments never linger and always provide value. Tidbits about producer Bob Rock’s influence on a track, or a quick look into Lee-la Baum and Tom Shermer’s relationship connect with the audience and help the audience connect with the music. It’s interesting to hear about the genesis of PY Letellier’s “Shot ‘em,” and listeners will never hear “Full on You” in quite the same way after hearing Shermer reveal that he had set out to write a song in the style of The Kinks.
Surrounding the behind-the-scenes cuts, the songs of Now or Nowhere explode with genuine urgency as the band runs through them, in order, with maximum energy. Feeding off of each other, Baum, Shermer, and Letellier seem to share a telepathic connection, sharing a riff or a mood with nothing other than a glance. They love playing together and they believe in the songs that they play.
The music itself is excellent. For all of the charisma and visual appeal, the showmanship never outshines the music, and much of that is due to the quality of songs and transparency of sound. Stripped down to their basic composition, each of Now or Nowhere’s nine tunes would work with only sung melody and sparse accompaniment. Live, drenched in warm, overdriven tones and with Baum singing as if her life depended on it, they reach another level. Without too much deviation from the album versions, viewers are treated to renditions that can best be described as Now or Nowhere in Technicolor.
Pulling this fervor into the second half of the show, The Damn Truth revisits a few of their older tracks through their present artistic direction. Bandwagon fans only familiar with the group’s latest release might be surprised to discover that the team has been writing and playing high quality music for several years. A bit more riff-driven and perhaps a bit rawer, these choices display a very gritty, punchy take on hard rock that draws from a couple of decades. Although often overlooked due to the larger-than-life personas of Baum and Shermer, Letellier and Dave Traina (drums) put together some incredibly thick, throbbing rhythms that drive the songs forward. “Broken Blues” and “Devilish Folk” come close to eclipsing the stars of the latest album to no one’s dismay.
At 90 minutes, the taut, edgy performance leaves the audience wanting more, and the band makes sure to express their excitement at soon being able to deliver that. Their optimism, like their music, also feels genuine.
By itself, the product approaches perfection. There are no weak songs or moments, and the highpoints are too numerous to list here. This livestream debuts Now or Nowhere in the best way possible and doubles as an introduction to the band for newcomers. It can be enjoyed on a few levels.
Incidentally, The Damn Truth may have stumbled upon a new way to release albums in the internet era. With the exception of in-person intimacy, this experimental format equals and even outperforms the traditional drop party in most areas. Combining the raw energy of a concert with near-studio precision strikes a nice balance with which to reveal new songs in a live setting. Little excerpts and snippets of uncontrived conversations provide just enough context to the album without veering into documentary territory. Most importantly, broadcasting worldwide expands the show’s reach in a way not before possible.
Whether or not this can work for other bands is unknown, but it’s a raging success for The Damn Truth. The Now or Nowhere Worldwide Record Release Experiment should not be missed by any rock fan, as it is easily one of the best livestream performances to date.
*This is Who We Are Now
*Full On You
^Get With You
^Heart Is Cold
^Pirates and Politicians
*Denotes songs from “This Is Who We Are Now” (2021) // ^Denotes songs from their second album “Devilish Folk” (2016) // $ Denotes songs from “Dear In The Headlights” (2012)
Billy Gibbons, the legendary ZZ Top frontman and champion of Texas blues, requires little introduction. His powerful guitar sound and gritty vocals are as distinctive as his beard is long, and with a career spanning over 50 years, the man has nothing left to prove. Nevertheless, he shows no sign of slowing down and has just released Hardware, his newest album. Recorded at Escape Studio in the middle of the Californian desert, the record is the third release by Gibbons, in a late but very prolific solo career. Following the Cuban-influenced Perfectamundo (2015) and the blues-rooted The Big Bad Blues (2018), Hardware retains some of its predecessors’ traits, but with a more rock-oriented approach. Let’s check this in detail.
The album features drummer Matt Sorum (Former member of Guns N’ Roses and The Cult) and talented guitarist Austin Hanks, that with Gibbons, form the core line-up of the band. Inspired by the beautiful and harsh desert landscapes, The ‘Reverend’ presents us with rough rockers as well as with slow, more contemplative pieces, blended in remarkable fashion. The album also features hints of country, Latin and surf music and neo-wave, making it diverse, although Gibbons’ brand of blues rock is still the record’s driving force.
The album opener, “My Lucky Card”, is a steady, medium-paced blues rocker with its hard riffage and tasty solo. The strong track is very reminiscent of Gibbons’ early days with ZZ Top and sets the tone for the three fun-packed, hard-rocking tracks that follow: “She’s On Fire”, More-More-More” and “Shuffle, Step & Slide”. The aggression steps aside for a moment to give space for the mellow, slow-blues tenderness of “Vagabond Man” with its beautiful guitar solos. The first half of the album ends with “Spanish Fly”, a slow-paced rocker, that drones on for too long without much excitement. Perhaps the weakest song on the album, although it is redeemed by its soulful final-minute guitar solo.
The second half kickstarts with the fun, surf-music rocker “West Coast Junkie” and is followed by the equally fun, although heavier, “Stackin’ Bones”, which includes the participation of the female-fronted blues rock group Larkin Poe. Bluesy, short and hard, “I Was A Highway” and S-G-L-M-B-B-R” follows the pattern. “Hey Baby, Que Paso”, a cover of The Texas Tornados track, is somewhat of a bluesy latin-rock (If there is such a thing) with lyrics including witty play-on-words in English and Spanish. A fun, catchy number, and my personal favorite on the album. The last track is “Desert High”, a spoken poetry track with instrumental accompaniment. Atmospheric and evocative, the poem dwells on the desert’s mysteries and mentions the likes of Gram Parsons, Keith Richards and Jim Morrison. One of the album’s highlights as well.
Although not exactly an album sparking with originality (not that I was expecting it), Hardware doesn’t sound outdated and brings some new elements to Gibbons’ classic sound. A true testament to the longevity and excellence of one of the true blues rock colossus.
“The desert toad takes me for a ride
The Lizard King’s always by my side
The hawk and eagle just want to fly
But the horizon’s hot, and the air is dry”
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– My Lucky Card
– Stackin’ Bones
– Vagabond Man
– Hey Baby, Que Paso
– Desert High
With the Myths and Consequences LP, it seems the French producer, Thomas Chalandon, has found complete darkness. Chalandon, under the alias Templər, is no stranger to the abrasive, raw mechanisms of sound. His work as a duo alongside Pablo Bozzi (Lapse of Reason) with Imperial Black Unit found the band among the ranks of some of EBM’s heaviest and most-loved music for underground, derelict spaces—even with an unforgettable performance on Boiler Room a couple years ago. Additionally, his Berlin-based label, Area Z, is one of the most exciting for a certain type of dire electronic dance music, boasting EPs from the likes of Chrome Corpse, t_error 404, and Blind Delon.
But Templər is where Chalandon directs the most sincere, dismal forms of rhythmic noise, EBM, and techno. Since his debut EP on X-IMG with his Human Hate EP in 2017, he’s perfected his own noisy, grinding narrative of industrial music. Myths and Consequences, released on June 4th on the German label, HANDS, is not easy—it’s discomforting, harsh, and primitive. The album begins with “Road to Jounieh,” a metallic track, a gravely Sysiphean rhythm that immediately plunges into the dark. Myths and Consequences never comes back up for air.
Each track is foreboding while a tension is built from beginning to end. “Let the Soul Chase the Sorrows” creates a stormy landscape with its squealing sounds, seemingly begging for reprieve, while “Le Crime par la Pensée” offers a moment of forgiveness with a melodic crescendo, rooted heavily in rhythmic noise. With guest vocals from Lapse of Reason, the title track is reminiscent of late 80s or early 90s pulsating, dirty industrial, such as Esplendor Geométrico. It makes sense, then, that the Spanish band remixed Templər alongside other prominent and important producers in the genre. Test Dept, Orphx, Geistform, and Harsh Mentor offer up their own interpretation of the guitar-laden track “A True Terror Corporation (feat. Incendie).” It’s apparent that Chalandon’s influences collide from the choice of remixes that emphasize heavy techno, boisterous noise, and sluggish industrial.
Myths and Consequences is made for moments of cacophony—there’s no in-between here. Listen below:
Eddie Turner’s Change in Me is soul-packed vocals joined to funky, low-key blues, with the funk presenting not as treble-y, wrist-breaking guitar, but rather as sexy, even mysterious grooves that take the listener on a journey, but always returns them to where they started.
Singer/guitarist Turner came up through the Colorado-based Zephyr, the hard rock band founded by guitarist Tommy Bolin. Turner played on the band’s final album, with the group folding after the death of singer Candy Givens. He eventually wound up in Otis Taylor’s band (Taylor had also played bass for Zephyr), going solo in 2004, with Change in Me his fourth studio album.
Turner is probably best known for his guitar work, and while there’s plenty of pretty licks here, the guitar is present and recognizable on every track, but doesn’t dominate. Turner uses interesting sounds and beats that require taste and chops, but he’s rarely soloing for the sake of showing off his dexterity. So on the title track, Turner deploys an easy rhythm with wah guitar providing color, without making you feel you accidentally clicked on a 1970s action film. Turner also duets with Jessie Lee Thetford, his deep voice mingling with her lighter one, creating a lovely, soulful track that’s elevated by the guitar work, but not defined by it.
Turner’s a strong songwriter, but he also chooses some interesting covers. “My Friend” is a lesser-known Jimi Hendrix track, which Turner puts through a jazz filter, slowing up the tempo, so Hendrix’s surreal lyrics (“I just got out of a Scandinavian jail / And I’m on my way straight home to you”) pop. And while the guitar work tips its hat to Hendrix, it’s not a direct lift. Turner’s voice, singing and musical, comes through.
You can say the same thing for his cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man,” here mixed together with Taj Mahal’s “She Caught the Katy.” The Velvet Underground original captures the nervous energy of waiting for your drugs to arrive, recreating the energy of an extended fidget session. Turner’s version is slow and trippy, almost like what one expects to happen after the man arrives with his goods.
Turner closes the album with the blues classic, “Hoochie Koochie Man,” the album’s most rocking moment. Turner keeps the vocals cool, as he does throughout the album, never giving into passion, but instead channeling the energy into intensity. It’s the perfect way to end an album that’s lots of fun, but isn’t particularly heavy. Turner understands the hottest tracks are often the ones that burn the slowest.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Change in Me
– I’m Waiting For The Man/She Caught The Katy
– Standing On The Front Line
– Hoochie Koochie Man
As if it were not enough to be the incredibly prolific, altruistic award-winning blues rock chart-topper, Joe Bonamassa now decides to put out one of the most iconic performances he’s ever done. We call it iconic not only because it was recorded at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN, but considering all that this act represented when it was recorded and now is going to be released. This album showcases the efforts to get over all the hurdles, not only those imposed by the Covid pandemic but also a broken ankle from the main drummer of the Bonamassa’s band, Anton Fig, just when the band was preparing to hit the road on tour. Another upside is that the event helped to raise over $500K for Bonamassa’s Fueling Musicians program, presented by his non-profit Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation (KTBA).
Despite the pandemic, Bonamassa didn’t slow down in 2020. Alongside Josh Smith, Bonamassa produced albums for Eric Gales and Joanna Connor. Connor’s album hit #1 on the Billboard Blues chart and Gales’ is expected to be released later this year. Now, in 2021, the duo is involved in the production of new album by Joanne Shaw Taylor, which should be another top-notch release.
Now Serving: Royal Teal Live From the Ryman was recorded even before the release of the JB’s 24th #1 record on the Billboard Blues chart, Royal Tea, in September 2020. For the Ryman performance, nine songs were selected from that unreleased album (at that time) and three songs from his 20th-anniversary album A New Day Now.
As we’ve said, the usual drummer Anton Fig missed the show, but the band composed by Reese Wynans (keyboards), Michael Rhodes (bass), Greg Morrow (drums), Rob McNelly (guitars), Jade MacRae (vocals), Danielle De Andrea (vocals) and Jimmy Hall (harp/vocals) delivered a flawless performance. Bonamassa is a true maestro, as well as his band members, performing the songs with extreme perfection that can even confuse an unwarned listener who doesn’t know that it was a live performance. Some highlights are “When One Door Opens”, “Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye” and “Beyond The Silence”. These songs are intricate, having different parts, mixing calm and heavy moments.
In spite of his well-known guitar/amp collection that he insists on using as much as he can in live performances, regarding the guitar tones heard on this new album we can say that Bonamassa preferred to keep it as uniform as he could. There were no abrupt changes in the guitar tone, except in some parts like the intro to “Walking In My Shadow” and the solo in Rory Gallagher’s “Cradle Rock”. But you can rest easy, the guitar tones remain huge and stunning, that fat and fulfilled guitar tone that Bonamassa is known for.
Bonamassa keeps his tradition of always innovating and bringing new formats to his releases. As we annually see in events like at KTBA Live At Sea, Now Serving: Royal Teal Live From the Ryman is a successful effort to do different things, standing out from the majority of the mainstream options and keeps the audience engaged. Bonamassa continues to be the model for the blues rock genre, not only for others blues rockers, but for the fans as well.
The Review: 9.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– When One Door Opens
– Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye
– A Conversation With Alice
– Beyond The Silence
– Walk In My Shadow
“Joe Bonamassa’s “Now Serving: Royal Tea Live From The Ryman” is
released on CD, Vinyl, DVD and Blu-ray by Provogue/Mascot Label
Group on June 11th. Pre-order the album in the UK and Europe from: www.mascotlabelgroup.com/collections/new-products
More a continuation than a follow-up to April’s Covered Tracks: Vol.1, Eric Johanson’s Covered Tracks: Vol. 2 applies the same austere approach to reinventing a mixed collection of popular and lesser-known songs. Like its predecessor, this set of eleven covers spans nearly a hundred years of musical contributions and few disparate genres. Ranging from 1912’s “My Melancholy Baby” to Fiona Apple’s 1997 “Sleep to Dream,” Johanson chooses his subjects not for their original styles and popularity, but rather for their ability to work within his personal brand of acoustic blues.
Johanson incorporates his influences into his playing without aping the old masters. His slide technique and resonator tone could easily fit into the canon of yesteryear’s blues, but his unique guitar nuance and distinct voice distinguish him from cheap throwback wannabes.
By simply shifting the focus from piano to guitar, Johanson’s version of “Sleep to Dream” sounds vastly different from Apple’s. Much like Vol. 1’s “Head Like a Hole,” the chords fit perfectly into a slide guitar format, and Johanson maintains much of the angst and moodiness of the original in addition to adding his own bluesy attitude. “Yellow Moon” accomplishes a similar feat with a different type of song, keeping a funky vibe, but relying on clever guitar licks and an extended spanish-style solo to provide the track’s highlights.
The middle section of the album focuses on covers of blues-based songs. “Death Letter,” “In the Pines,” and “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” sound great in part due to Johanson’s restrained approach in putting his stamp on established classics. On these songs Johanson hews closely to the original tempo and tone, producing great listens even if they aren’t the most groundbreaking interpretations. He does significantly slow Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Goin’ Down to the River,” demonstrating one correct way to reshape a tune. Unfortunately, his attempt on Freddie King’s “My Credit Didn’t Go Through” is less successful. Here Johanson neither radically reforms King’s fiery lament, nor does he match the early version’s intensity. It’s not a bad track, but it feels like a missed opportunity considering the transformative talent Johanson demonstrates elsewhere on the album.
“Can’t You See” and “And I Love Her” both sparkle through Johanson’s innate ability to know which pieces of songs are indispensable and which parts can be personalized. On the former, he maintains the subtle chord shuffles and the signature guitar licks, and on the latter he keeps the instrumentation sparse to focus attention on the vocals.
“4th of July” ranks among Vol. 2’s best moments and represents the album’s greatest achievement. Soundgarden’s backside track from their seminal album Superunknown epitomized the grunge era, including its occasional missteps down dreary and needlessly noisy paths. Johanson’s rendition of the song is almost unrecognizable. He rescues the melody and lyrics from the original’s questionable production and turns in a version that is superior in every way.
Johanson’s Covered Tracks: Vol. 2 doesn’t deviate much from his first attempt at a covers album, but it provides nearly a dozen more great reimaginations that can be enjoyed on several levels. Some tracks get completely reworked, others shine through Johanson’s sparse but colorful subtleties. Listeners will likely feel the same way about this effort as they did Vol. 1, and in that regard, most will consider it another success for a rapidly maturing talent.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Sleep to Dream
– Yellow Moon
– 4th of July
– Can’t You See