The Chris Robinson Brotherhood

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Betty's Midwestern Magick Blends Vol. 4

 Silver Arrow

 2018

There are two bands it's hard not to mention when talking about the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. One is, of course, the Black Crowes, the group Chris Robinson formed with his brother Rich, a band that brought some much-needed roll to the 90's rock scene before their volatile relationship and sibling rivalry finally became too much for both to continue in the same outfit. The other is the Grateful Dead, who's example of constant touring, while changing the set list every night for their travelling fans, and then releasing those shows on a multitude of live recording, seems to have been taken as an instruction manual of how a modern band can not only survive, but prosper on their own terms in this age of something-for-nothing streaming services.

 

The Grateful Dead references don't end there, either. This live recording, and several others CRB have released on their own label, Silver Arrow, since 2013, was captured by the legendary Betty Cantor-Jackson, a recording engineer who taped hundreds of Grateful Dead concerts during Garcia & co.'s peak years. Her ability to capture the magic(k) of a band in full flight has certainly not faded with time.

 

This set kicks off with rolling ivories, heralding Forever As The Moon, a keyboard line that bares more than a passing resemblance to the intro of the Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker). The snaking slide guitar of Neal Casal that soon accompanies the piano vamp does nothing to dispel the Stones comparisons, although the lyrical poetry owes more to Dylan than Jagger in this instance. In fact, most of the tracks selected here represent the more rootsy side of CRB's recent output. Psychedelic interludes and flourishes still remain, though, and the bands ability to stretch out and jam is shown off to fine effect, especially on the barnstorming 11-minute version of the Jerry Leiber-penned, southern soul hit, Down Home Girl, originally recorded by Alvin Robinson. Peppered with some deliciously funky Sly Stone clavinet, it would almost be worth the price of the concert ticket just to see this performed live. The yearning cowboy melodies of Shadow Cosmos follows, then lead on to possibly their biggest song yet, the epic Narcissus Soaking Wet. A-10 minute monster jam that definitively answers the question "What would it have sounded like if Pink Floyd and Stevie Wonder had got it together in their mid-70's pomp. Robinson spits out a couple of bad-ass honking harmonica solos before Neal Casal lets rip with a stratospheric guitar solo.

 

Casal originally started off playing for Rickey Medlockes' southern rockers Blackfoot, before making a name for himself in Ryan Adams backing band the Cardinals. Apart from his role in CRB, he also currently plays with Hard Working Americans, The Skiffle Players and Circles Around the Sun. His quality guitar playing and song writing always add a real touch of class to every project he's involved in. But back to the gig, and the soul/prog experiments continue on Precious Precious. originally a hit for Jacksonville soul diva Jackie Moore and here featuring a mammoth Moog solo that I'm certain was never envisioned by the writers when the song was first composed. For Black Crowes fans yet to experience Chris Robinsons current direction, the most Marmite aspect will most likely be those keyboards. The bending analogue sythesizer lines of Adam McDougall play a prominent role in much of the music made here, which can be a shock to those used to the Humble Pie / Faces grittiness of those early Crowes releases. There can certainly be a fine line between the Mothership funk of Bernie Worrell and the theme from Grange Hill and, although the combination of sounds at first seemed like very odd bedfellows to me, I have really grown to love the qualities that sound brings. Quite often it's the grit in the oyster that elevates the CRB output into something truly unique. Another cover follows in the form of Magic Carpet Ride, a faithful, if more fleet-of-foot, rendition than the Steppenwolf original. Those feet well and truly leave the ground when the band ignite their rocket boots and launch into full wig out mode (twice!). Then it's back to the original compositions with the desert blues of Somewhere Past the Sunset, recalling Texan guitar god Joe Ely, amongst others. This is followed by a magnificent version of one of my favourite CRB tunes, New Cannonball Rag, which, at nearly 13-minutes, takes the Deadhead boogie of the studio version right out to the edge of the Solar System and back.

 

Robinson’s vocal dexterity is on fine display all throughout these recordings, but especially during It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. Most of Dylans' compositions have been covered several times and this one is no exception, yet despite the rarified company, Chris more than holds his own, as the band add shades of Leon Russell to this spin on this old classic. I've always been a big fan of Robinson’s delivery, right back from when I got to see them in Manchester on their first UK tour waaay back in 1990. Considering his herbal requirements and his relentless touring schedule, his voice has survived remarkably well in a way that belies his age. The register is maybe a fraction deeper and the edges a little more grizzled, but he was, and remains, a rock singer of unique quality and soul. Backed by a band that plays with all the assurance of The Band, the audacity of the Allmans and is free of the shackles of expectation that comes with having to play songs you first wrote nearly 30 years ago, you can just tell that Robinson is right where he needs to be at this point in his career, and enjoying every minute of it. You can hear it in the assured delivery of the last two CRB compositions, Ain't It Hard But Fair and California Hymn, and, as if to silence those blinkered old Black Crowes fans who just won't be happy unless Chris Robinson is shaking his moneymaker to a Stones back-beat, this quality collection finishes with a dynamite rendition of Let It Bleed that could only come from that wily old Crowe.

 Michael Hosie





 

Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro-Escovedo-The-Crossing

The Crossing

Yep Roc Records

2018

“Bang Bang! There’s trouble in America” shouts Alejandro Escovedo on Fury and Fire, a blast of angry 21st century rock and roll protest, a stand-out lyric from The Crossing. A concept album built on the story of Salvo and Diego, two kids, Italian and Mexican respectively, who meet in Texas and decide to start a band, to make music just like the great records that started them on their separate crossings to the USA. As our two protagonists travel further into America, dreams are shattered by experiences as the harsh reality of America bleeds in. Fertile ground, indeed, for a song writer of Mexican-American heritage such as Escovedo, whom No Depression magazine have already declared artist of the decade. No pressure, then. I was weary when I approached the album for my first listen.

Alejandro Escovedo has had a diverse career since he first appeared as a founding member of the San Francisco punk band The Nuns, back in 1975. Prior to his recordings under his own name in a more alt.country style, Escovedo wielded his guitar for several notable bands, including Austin Cowpunk pioneers Rank and File, and The True Believers. Never one to be pinned down by musical borders, Escovedo is not easy to fence in.

Having already played the lead single, Sonica USA, featuring the guitar work of MC5’s Wayne Kramer, on the Whiskey Preachin radio show several months prior to the albums release, I had been expectantly waiting to hear the full work. Reviews I had read in the intervening months had been unanimous in putting the album on a pedestal, using words like “cinematic” and “masterwork”, describing Escovedo as one of the great songwriters of our time, in a genre of his own. I’d learnt that, alongside MC5’s Kramer, James Williamson of The Stooges also plays on one track, Teenage Luggage, that Joe Ely appears on two tracks, writing one of them, as does Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin. With such a build-up, I was worried that I wouldn’t like it, that maybe the artfulness and the concept would get in the way of the listen. There was no need to worry. On first listen, it was clear we were dealing with a very fine album indeed.

From a Whiskey Preachin perspective, there are a handful of tracks on The Crossing that we might choose to play in DJ set, more that would work well on the radio show. Outlaw for You is a tune that occupies a space in the musical Venn diagram where Whiskey Preachin and our friends Stay Sick could happily co-habit without squabbling over the stereo, a slice of classic garage rock Americana, like a cross between The Sir Douglas Quintet and ? and The Mysterians. Brilliant. The Aforementioned Sonica USA is all driving rock and roll, as is Fury and Fire, full of anger and political angst that many of us are feeling, no matter where we live. One of the strongest tracks comes towards the end of the album, the penultimate tune, MC Overlord, a mightily impressive No Wave post-punk workout.

The album’s slower tracks are where many of the guest singers appear and, if anything, give the album the structure necessary to navigate the story around the bigger, brasher rock and roll numbers. Joe Ely, who’s song Fingernails turned Joe Strummer onto Texas music, contributes the song Silver City, adding a touch of classic Texas songwriter to the sprawling kaleidoscope of musical influences and styles displayed on The Crossing. Ely returns to voice the spoken-word title track, The Crossing, closing out the album with a lament for broken dreams and broken lives, scorched along the Mexican border.

“The border crossed me, I didn’t cross it. If you really want to think of it, you’re the wetback, coming across the Atlantic”. Rio Navidad is another track where the story is exposited in spoken-work, this time written by Willy Vlautin (Richmond Fontaine, The Delines) and spoken by fellow Richmond Fontaine member, Freddy Trujillo, taking the reins to expound Diego’s story in Vlautin’s words. Another highlight of the album is the wonderful instrumental, Amor Puro, which opens with an almost Casio keyboard-style bossa groove before expanding into the sort of sleazy popcorn joint Calexico might bring to the party, if they had just come back form a desert surfing holiday.

The Crossing was recorded in Italy with Antonio Gramentieri and his band Don Antonio. Gramentieri is also credited with having written much of the album with Escovedo. The two travelled between Italy and Texas for their writing sessions, to soak up the atmosphere of both locations, home landscapes of the two characters in The Crossing. After all, the essence of south Tejas will always be Mexican. Gramentieri’s previous band, Sacri Cuori (Sacred Hearts), created music influenced and inspired by Italian film scores, having written music for film themselves. On The Crossing, it feels as if the soundtrack influence allowed for the diversity of styles to hang together as a single album. The very idea of a concept album could almost be imagined as a film made in music, so a group of musicians with experience in soundtracks makes perfect sense. There is something about The Crossing that made me think of the soundtrack created by Frank Black for a 1920s silent film called The Golem. For those of you with an interest in reading sleeve notes, Gramentieri also played guitar on Giant Sand’s 2015 album Heartbreak Pass.

The Crossing is a big album, seventeen tracks, covering lots of ground, myriad styles and influences; punk, rock and roll, Americana, ballads, spoken-word, surf and twang. It’s an ambitious work that shouldn’t really hang together as well as it does. It’s a melting pot of sounds and styles, just like the man whose name is on the sleeve. 

Tony Sexton

Cliff Westfall

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 Baby You Win

Independent

2018

We are lucky today to be in a world where quality independent country music is the strongest it has been for decades, possibly ever. Whether you lean towards outlaw, cosmic, countrypolitan or singer-songwriter, honky tonk or bluegrass, there’s something out there for everyone. You can add Cliff Westfall’s album, Baby You Win, to that list. Packed with classic honky tonk sounds, with a production that manages to fell fresh and bygone at the same time, Baby You Win is reverential without falling into the trap of pastiche. Westfall’s lyrics are finely honed, at times wonderfully humorous, at others heart breaking, as only real a country songs can be. The press release helpfully prompts the busy reviewer that they should make some time for this album if they like Dwight Yoakam, Robbie Fulks or Rodney Crowell, and these are certainly good markers. Baby You Win does remind me of Fulks’s Georgia Hard album and Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., both albums I have gone back to time and time again, so I didn’t need much convincing.

Photo by Rosie Cohe

Westfall is a son of the south, hailing from Kentucky, the bluegrass state, although he calls New York home now. His band boasts so much experience, it’s no wonder they make such a fine sound together. The roll call of artists that members of the band have played with is impressive, if not daunting; Shooter Jennings, Norah Jones, Valerie June, Laura Cantrell, Ronnie Spector, Danger Mouse, Bruce Springsteen. Add to that producer Bryce Goggin, who has worked with The Ramones, Pavement and Antony and The Johnsons, and you have some serious talent in the studio.

Photo by Rosie Cohe

When deciding if an album should be reviewed here, the main considerations is whether it would fit in a Whiskey Preachin DJ set, or on the radio show. So, with that in mind, I was keen to find out if Westfall would deliver on our terms. The album gets off to a good start with a chirpy bopper, It Hurt Her to Hurt Me, followed by the twanging rock & roll of the title track, no surprise that Westfall cites Chuck Berry as a big influence. Till the Right One Comes Along drops to a shuffle, with a piano sound that brings to mind Patsy Cline, or Charlie Rich. So far, so good, all sounding very nice. I could play a lot of this on the radio, or when DJing in support of a band, but I’m not sure any of it would work in a full-on Whiskey Preachin DJ set. The next track, More and More, firms up my resolve that, while this is a solid, nice album, I won’t be needing to splash out on a vinyl copy.

Just as I think I’ve got this one pegged, the next track, Off the Wagon, kicks in. A lovely funky twang is soon under-pinned by a rolling train shuffle and an infectious guitar line that pricks my ears up immediately. As the lyrics unwind themselves, I can’t keep my smile under control, I know I’ve found a WP winner. Then the lead guitar does its thing and the steel rips it up and I’m gone.  No more evidence, your honour. A couple of tunes later, I’ll Play the Fool pulls a similar stunt on me, and I’m starting to hope that this album is being pressed up on vinyl, after all. Two sure fire WP tunes earns an album a place in the record box. I’m sold, even before a third winner, The End of the Line, kicks in to make this a three-spin album, making it all but essential.

Photo by Diego Britt

There are still two more songs to go, but, frankly, I’m happy for this baby to coast out, nice and easy, after all the hard work that has been presented so far. Well, I should know better by now, of course. Westfall closes out the twelve tracks of Baby You Win with a lovely drop of country funk, titled The Odds Were Good. That makes four solid Whiskey Preachin spins on a single album, and a body count that high raises a few eyebrows around here. But don’t get me wrong, just because there are four tracks that could happily grace any WP set, that’s not to say the rest of the album is a slouch. Far from it, this baby is packed with honky tonk goodness, from the first note to the last. Baby, we’re all winners here.

Tony Sexton

Jason Eady

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I Travel On

Old Guitar Records

2018

 

A Jason Eady album is always easy on the ear and I Travel On is no different. You don’t get a huge amount of grit or rough edges from him, just well written tunes and cleverly constructed lyrics. In fact, his voice and songwriting style reminds me of early 90’s country star Clint Black, and that’s no bad thing.

If you’re new to Eady, 2014’s Daylight & Dark is especially worth checking out, a nice mix of honky tonk stormers and late-night laments, but this album takes a slight detour from his previous outings. Eady's earlier sound was fairly well set in the country-hony tonk arena, with a backbone of thoughtful acoustic tunes. ‘I Travel On’ has a more bluegrass feel to it, with a few swampy, bluesy tracks thrown in to mix it up. In fact, a couple of the songs have a Tony Joe White groove about them. Now or Never and That’s Alright especially. The more ‘present’ sound of the band also makes this feel different. In the past, Eady has sometimes felt like a solo artist working with backing musicians who are almost incidental, as if the songs were more important than the delivery. Here it sounds like a true ‘band’ effort, and adding a couple of bluegrass musicians, Grammy-nominated Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, has also made a big impact.

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The fact that the songs were captured live in one take shows the cohesiveness and skill of all concerned. The opener, Lost My Mind in Carolina, sets its stall out pretty quickly, with a melange of bluegrassy licks before Eady’s distinctive vocals kick in. It’s a lively, driving tune that leads into the swampy grind of Now or Never, with its unusual, picked-out, twangy refrain. 

Eady’s wife, Courtney Patton - a brilliant songwriter and singer in her own right - joins in on backing vocals on a couple of tunes, while the band proves its credentials with some lovely licks and solos to fill out the sound. Everything flows nicely, with ballads leading into country shuffles and bluesy grooves. Below the Waterline stands out a little from the rest, with its feel of a more traditional folk song, its pace and atmosphere acting as a nice palate cleanser. Your sensibilities now soothed, you’re headed straight into the frenetic Pretty when I die, which has the energy and thrust of a full-throttle Turnpike Troubadours track.

Jason Eady delivers with a conviction and authority that has you believing that his tales are based on personal experiences. A great example of this is She had to Run, which has the feel of a more countrified Jason Isbell ballad. Eady is one of those guys who seems to just get better and better, and this album gets better each time you hear it. I Travel On offers a slightly different flavour to Eady's usual output, but one that really tickles the taste buds, for sure. Get it on the menu at your local honky tonk today.

Pat Comer

Cordovas

That Santa Fe Channel

ATO Records

2018

Looks can be deceptive. Cordovas have the rough and ready look of a bunch of prospectors from the California gold rush, but while they rock that 49er chic, there's a real sophistication to their classy take on the Americana sound. Bandleader Joe Firstman's previous experience, as musical director on NBC's late-night show Last Call with Carson Daly, has certainly stood him in good stead. Performing nightly alongside first-rate musicians, such as Thundercat and Kamasi Washington, can only create the highest of standards, and Firstman has corralled a crack troupe of musicians, capable of delivering a tune as slick and polished as any pop act, but never sounding plastic.

This is real, heartfelt roots music, never overblown but, despite its confidence, often displaying a certain fragility. Expertly captured by producer Kenneth Pattengale. opening track This Town's A Drag is a case in point. Many touring bands have written about killing time while stuck in Anytown, USA, but few manage to convey the feelings of yearning and resignation as eloquently as Cordovas. It's also one hell of an earworm. Check out the footage of them performing the track live at Toe Rag studios, when they were last in London. Selfish Loner is a tale of a charming lowlife sleaze accompanied with quicksilver slick pedal steel and angelic three-part vocal harmonies. In fact, the vocal harmonies really are key to the success of this album. Firstman insisted that all vocal parts be recorded at the same time, until the perfect take was achieved, and it pays off, embellishing every track, from the funky roots-rock of Talk to Me to the soulful Santa Fe, with a quality few acts can manage.

Of course, there are influences here, too, with a nod to the Allmans on occasion, and I had to check that I'm The One That Needs You Tonight wasn't an obscure Dylan composition I was yet to discover. The album is also infused with a world-weary tenderness, recalling Gram Parsons solo recordings, but it's really The Band and Little Feat that are the most obvious comparisons, not only in the songwriting but also the sheer quality of musicianship.

Although Cordovas eponymous debut album was released in the UK in the last couple of years, it was actually recorded six years ago, and a couple of its strongest compositions make a reappearance on That Santa Fe Channel. Standing on the Porch originally had more of a stomping beat, but here it has a skip in its step that allows it to swing and shay in a more danceable way, while Step Back Red, previously heavily indebted to The Band and still containing Robbie Robertson's DNA, has been embellished with playful jazzy elements after years of jamming on the road. Still love that original version though.

Michael Hosie

 

If you get a kick form seeing talented, tried and true musicians performing first class, original material with a passion and verve that ignites an enthusiastic sympathy in the audience; if you like songs to be crafted and honed, to be worth the time it takes to write them, not just to listen; and if you like your country music filtered through the musical strata of the decades, lightly wearing influences from old time mountain harmonies to classic California country-rock; if you like the sound of a band that might make you think of Little Feat, The Band, Steely Dan, even, at times, White Denim, then you need to check out Cordovas.

Tony Sexton

Jesse Daniel

Jesse Daniel

Self-Released

2018

 

Now we’re talkin’! Another great self-released country album, the sort of record that takes you by surprise, barrelling around a dangerous curve at 100 mph. There’s so much to like on Jesse Daniel’s eponymous debut; the songs are strong, the production has just the right amount of grit and the vibe’s up-beat, like a Saturday night in a California roadhouse, with lashings of electric twang, witty lyrics and a real good thump to the drums. With titles like Hell Bent and Comin’ Down Again, it’s not difficult to imagine what this album has in store. That said, few new artists can tell it as straight and true as Jesse Daniel does on Soft Spot (for the Hard Stuff), a confessional of sorts. Daniel’s story of substance abuse is no mere lyrical conjuring of romantic fantasy, rather a first-hand expression of a life he has thankfully managed to escape.

Starting out as a drummer for several punk bands around his home in Ben Lomand, California (north of Santa Cruz), Daniel found himself on the road and increasingly out of his head on various substances, graduating to the queen of the main line. Life followed a pick-n-mix of rehab, jail and homelessness. Daniel’s story of how he found his path to becoming a country musician is almost prophetic. Passing by a thrift shop on his way back to a motel room for a fix, he saw a group of homeless watching a TV in the window. Stopping to see what they were watching, he heard one of the men exclaim “hey, they’re pretty good”, before realising that one of the musicians on screen was his own father. Jesse and the other men went off to fix up in another motel room, where there was a TV set in the corner playing Buck Owens singing Act Naturally. Jesse Daniel hadn’t exactly seen the light, but the seeds of his redemption had been sewn.

A few years later, while in rehab in Oakland, Jesse heard the strum and twang of someone playing a Hank Williams tune in the next room. Wandering in to investigate, he sat to listen, later making his mind up to kick his habit, lay down the needle in favour of the guitar. Daniel hdd found his path at last, eventually managing to get on his feet, save $50 to buy a battered old Fender and start writing songs.

Soft Spot (for the Hard Stuff) doesn’t pull any punches in the story it tells, as the protagonist packs his life into a glass pipe and burns it down to the ground, all to a solid outlaw groove that adds the song extra credence. It’s a sure-fire Whiskey Preachin winner, as is SR-22 Blues, an up-tempo romp of a tale of a guy who has lost his driving licence for DUI and now walks twenty miles to his SR-22, the light aircraft that has replaced his car! The Banker is another highlight on this gem of an album, like a modern-day remake of Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, spinning the yarn of as banker who has been run over, resulting in thousands of dollars blowing down the street from his busted briefcase. If only…

Jessie Daniel has released a record that I expect will be at the front of the Whiskey Preachin record box for years to come. My LP copy can’t turn up soon enough.

 

Tony Sexton

SVVAMP

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SVVAMP 2

RidingEasy Records

2018

 

It may be nearly 6000 miles between Jönköping, home to Swedish band Svvamp, and Hemosa Beach, California, where RidingEasy records is based, and no doubt the weather couldn't be more different, but despite the distance there's clearly a strong affinity linking the ethos of this band and the record label that signed them. Long-time friends Adam Johansson, Henrik Bjorklund and Erik Stahlgren were drawn together by a love of jamming the type of fuzz heavy blues rock that was all the rage in the early 1970s. If you've checked out any of the RidingEasy compilations, Brown Acid (a series focusing on rare as hen’s teeth hard rock and heavy psych, now on its 6th trip), then you might understand that this is a match made in heaven.

Justas the Brown Acid series features an array of private-pressed and self-released underground rock music from way back when, so there's a definite homespun quality to the kind of music Svvamp make. The band’s first album was self-recorded on a 4-channel cassette deck and their second album continues very much where the previous one left off, despite the band having indulged in the decadent luxury of recording on a 6-track system. Oversized mixing desks aren't really needed here, though, as this is music that keeps things nice and simple. Eschewing unnecessary bells and whistles for a classic sound that is simultaneously heavy and rocking, yet lazy and loping, Svvamp have the confidence to let their music take its time in much the same way that the music of Free refused to be hurried. 

 

There's certainly a rollcall of classic rock influences here, from the sleazy slide guitar and Mountain-esque riffs to be heard on Queen, which could have been picked from Leslie West's extremely large pockets, to the Zeppy crunch of Hillside and the weighty Sabbath blast of Alligator, which closes the album. It's not all heavy stuff though, Sunshine Street is reminiscent of Hendrix at his most poppy and playful, while How Sweet It Would Be builds on a Canned Heat choogle, with bassist Erik Stahlgrens softer vocal approach sounding a little like Marc Bolan after a hit on some killer weed. Guitarist Henrik Bjorklund also gets to sing on the beautiful solo spot Blues Inside, too. It's usually drummer Adam Johansson who takes care of vocal duties, though, also contributing the bubbling synthesizer lines which lace Surrender, probably the most psychedelic track on Svvamp 2. It's the gritty Out of Line, though, that confirms this LP as a record for Whiskey Preachers. It has Lynyrd Skynyrd's bad boy groove written all over it and the band build up a real head of steam that is impossible to resist.

The only criticism of Svvamp 2 from me is that sometimes the vocals are a little lost in the mix. I can’t help but wonder what this band would sound like with a designated singer up front, belting out these tunes. But then again, maybe that would all be a little too showy for these guys, a band who clearly like to just get their heads down and rock. I reckon this band will be riding easy for a long time to come.

Michael Hosie

Ben Bostick

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Hellfire

Self-Released

2018

 

Back in 2017 I interviewed Ben Bostick, the LA-Based, South Carolinian-raised Outsider country artist about his then new album, the eponymous Ben Bostick. No Depression described Ben’s performance on that album as coming on “like an unholy alliance of George Jones and Merle Haggard”; praise enough for any man, but I was convinced that Bostick might be capable of something even more incendiary, something to warn people about. It turns out I was right, so please take this review in the way it is meant, as a warning to impressionable minds and those of a fragile disposition. We wouldn’t want to offend anybody now, would we. Hellfire, Bostick’s new album, to be released at the end of June, gives us a glimpse of where he likes to venture with his music, down dark alleys full of human wreckage, to solicit or commit carnal musical acts.

The songs on Hellfire have been tried and tested by Bostick over the last year, using his band’s residency at a downtown LA bar, The Escondite, as the perfect opportunity to road-test new material. By the time the band went into the studio to record with John Would (Warren Zevon, Wanda Jackson), they were able to record the album live, sitting in a circle with just stage monitors to hear Bostick's vocals. Producer Would had extensively mic’d up the room, giving the recording an immediacy and energy that is at once primal and infections. The album opens with Bostick’s strained vocal searing out of the speaker, the sound of a man in pain; “I’ve got a job in the valley but today I didn’t go”, the story start, “I’m gonna go to the bank and cash out my account, drive straight to the tavern and drink a disgusting amount”. We know how you feel, Ben. Dirty rock and roll ensues, with a touch of Credence twang leading to some blistering guitar work (Kyle LaLone), building to a crescendo as Bostick’s story kicks back in with a flourish of Jerry Lee-style honky tonk piano (Luke Miller). The title track, Hellfire, plays next, opening with a dash of Burton-ish chicken pickin’ guitar, and before you know it Bostik’s getting drunk as hell again, this time on a bath tub of gin. The third track in, No Good Fool, uses the piano to full effect, barrel house boogie full of funky swagger, you can expect to be hearing it in our Whiskey Preachin DJ sets from now on.

 

 

The pressure keeps building as Bostick and the band crank up the tempo with Blow of Some Steam, coming on like a train wreck waiting to happen, good luck keeping up with this one on the dancefloor as Bostick declares he’s a Jim Beam drinking, Paycheck singing, dancing machine… Hell yeah! The tempo drops for the outsider’s lament on modern living, It Ain’t Cheap Being Poor, sounding like a hungry Rusty Weir desperately in need of a good cobbler. Tornado sounds like JJ Cale playing at a hoedown, The Other Side of Wrong combines a dash of Diddley with a flourish of that Jerry Lee piano, allowing Bostic to wallow in his righteously outlaw lyrics; “If I didn’t make bad decisions, I wouldn’t make no decisions at all”. Work, Sleep, Repeat gives us a little respite from the frantic boogie woogie onslaught, but that doesn’t mean it’s not packed with Bostick’s gravely grow and lashings of swagger, like Jim Morrison spliced and diced with Howlin’ Wolf; “Tonight I’m gonna drink like daddy does”. The Outsider closes out the album with the most straight-up rock track of the set, albeit one channelling a Jon Lord-style organ groove (, something we at Whiskey Preachin have always been partial to.

I asked Ben a few questions about his Hellfire, here’s what he had to say:

What has led you to the darker sound on this album? I wrote dozens of songs in the year leading up to recording this album, usually about one per week. I would bring the songs into the band for our Sunday night residency, and sometimes they would work right away and sometimes it was clear I had penned a real stinker. When it came time to record the album, I chose songs that all seemed to fit thematically, all from one perspective. I can’t say that I consciously wrote a darker album, so maybe the darkness had me without me knowing it. I’ve become more interested in writing albums than writing songs recently, so this is a baby step in the direction of putting together a fully cohesive album.

Any records you’ve been listening to that have influenced you in this direction? Honestly, not really. I try not to be influenced by records I’m listening to, because I just wind up copying the stuff I like. I was in a hardcore jazz listening period during the year I wrote this. Lots of hard bop, lots of Coltrane and Miles Davis. I was obsessed with forming a kind of improvised music that incorporated Americana elements with true musical freedom. Something that sounds like Astral Weeks, but less composed. I haven’t gotten around to trying any of those ideas yet. I was also listening to a lot of Springsteen. I don’t know why the songs that emerged are the way they are. Probably has more to do with me subconsciously writing for the venues I play. I’m not pandering to the crowd, per se, as much as seeing if I can whip them into a frenzy. That’s the Springsteen thing rearing its head. My next album is very Springsteen influenced.

Have you got a personal favorite from this album? I love them all, but my current favorite is “No Show Blues.” I think the recording of that song turned out just right. Just shot a music video for that one, too.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we give you Ben Bostick’s Hellfire, an album to show love and respect, especially at 4am when you stagger in form a heavy night on the town. If you find yourself in LA, see if you can catch one of the band’s live performances, or perhaps catch Ben spinning tunes at Shoo Shoo Baby, an LA bar that looks like something out of a Raymond Chandler novel. If you can play records in bars that look this good, I’m gonna move to California and see if Hollywood will have me.

Tony Sexton