Open Sea

At The helm records


Just as the waves of the Atlantic touch both the American coast and lap against the shores of merry old England so the exchange of musical influences between these two nations is an eternal source of inspiration. The music of American blues artists such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf inspired Keith Richards and Brian Jones to pick up their guitars and just how many American bands did the Rolling Stones, in their turn, spawn? So, the musical ebb and flow, like the tides, continues to this day. Chattanooga-born, New York-resident Hans Chew has always exhibited a limey loving streak in his star-spangled roots music. His story telling and piano playing on previous releases clearly owed as much a debt to Elton John as Leon Russell but on Open Sea, his latest album, the synthesis seems complete. Opening up with a track that has a running time of over 6 minutes may seem like a bold move, but this whole record is bold and opening salvo Giving Up the Ghost (actually the second shortest tune of the album) simply rolls along driven by pounding Mick-Fleetwood-esque drums. Yes, it's a jam-heavy platter and this well-oiled band stretch out, tight but loose. It's a real pleasure to hear a band this good nail these grooves. Second track, Cruikshanks, switches so seamlessly from a folk-rock melody Fairport Convention could have written into a Southern rock chorus tailor made for Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zandt that I'm surprised no one has tried it before. The album’s title track bundles the melody of Blind Faith's Can't Find My Way Home into the back of a van and dumps it in the middle of a funky, dirty hoedown. Who Am Your Love? is steeped in paranoia and menace while Freely inhabits the woozy carnivalesque vibe The Doors used to visit. The album wraps up with Extra Mile, a tale of humanity's travails where Hans finally lets rip with the kind of ragtime barrel-house piano lines he's best known for, (his in-demand keyboard skills featuring on records by D. Charles Speer, Jack Rose, Endless Boogie, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Steve Gunn) but it's his vocals that really shine on this record. At his most passionate, his voice has the quality of a razor blade so jagged and rusty that you'd need a tetanus jab if it cut you. Coupled with David Cavallo's mercurial guitar licks, this makes Open Sea the best Hans Chew album yet and I for one can't wait to experience these songs live. Catch them while you can.

Michael Hosie