Includes Audio Review
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.
Full Tilt Boogie
The adage would have us believe that a leopard never changes his spots. So, I guess, James Scott Bullard must be some other kind of cat altogether. A collection of his earlier tracks titled The Rise and Fall of… (recently released on Big Mavis, remastered and repackaged) presents tracks from his first four albums, all now out of print. The music on The Rise and Fall… would never knowingly upset the neighbours in the way that Full Tilt Boogie promises to do. The Rise and Fall… is a strong collection of songs, showing influences from the classic country rock of Gram Parsons and the Rolling Stones to modern Americana singer-songwriters such as Justin Townes Earle and Ryan Adams. In fact, Bullard released an EP titled Oh This Land (A Tribute to Gram Parsons) in 2015, which may see its way to being reissued at some point, but listening to Full Tilt Boogie for the umpteenth time, the same question arises again and again; just what happened to this guy in the intervening years between his first records and this new one? The love songs have soured, the gentle country rockers have become distorted and amped up, the general vibe is far greasier and hungover. In short, the new album has got a whole lot more Whiskey Preachin. I worry that Bullard may have started carrying a flick knife instead of a comb.
Full Tilt Boogie kicks in from the very first distorted guitar chord of Lord, Have Mercy, like a heavy country gospel tune gone to the dark side, a cry for a soul to be saved before it’s too late. When the second track, Wicked Ways, kicks in, we know it’s already too late. The guitars are still distorted but the drums are pounding a much faster tempo and the organ is squeaking out all that damn honky tonk rock and roll. Then you get to the breakdown you know you’re in for a real good time! All to Pieces lays off a little, but only a little, allowing you to regroup before the Chuck-Berry-on-steroids of Hey Hey Mama kicks in, with lyrics like “I’m gonna love you mama like it’s against the law” stoking the fires. Track six, Jesus, Jail or Texas, has to be my favourite, possibly the most country track on the album, with a nice shuffle beat and fantastic lyrics telling of the different ways that women have managed to escape our protagonist: “One girl she went to Texas, two that went to jail, there or four found Jesus and the rest can go straight to hell”. The guitars are still distorted and there’s plenty of nice slide action, like ZZ Top fronted by Kinky Friedman. Leavin’ on My Mind ramps up the tempo to a furious, demented, pace, taking us on a break-neck tour through Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Carolina, anywhere but here.
Is this a country album with pretentions towards being a rock record, or a rock album masquerading as a country record? Isn’t that just a stupid question? Does is really matter, if it sounds this good? At Whiskey Preachin, this is what we would describe as 100% bona fide Gumbo Rock, music that mashes up its influences and comes out with something fresh, a new sound made up of recognisable parts but for which no one signifier is sufficient to describe it. Bullard was raised up in South Carolina with a country and bluegrass musician for a father. As a kid, he grew up loving heavy rock but was surrounded by the music that later influenced him to start making the music on Full Tilt Boogie; the Southern rock of Lynyrd Skynrd, Tom Petty and The Allman Brothers (whose influence shines on the album’s closing track, Back to You), the classic rock and roll of Little Richard and Elvis and pure honky tonk of the world’s first punk rocker, Hank Williams; all these influences can be heard when listening to Full Tilt Boogie, so it’s little surprise that we love it at Whiskey Preachin. After all, these are the same artists that form the bedrock on which we built our shack. Why would we want to hear anything else?
Ole Whiskey Revival
Ole Whiskey Music
It's not every day that you get to rack up a global first, but that's just what we managed to do with the May 2018 Whiskey Preachin Radio Show. Without even realising it, we became the first radio show anywhere to play a track off the eponymous debut from Ole Whiskey Revival. You can give that show a listen right here, just click play on the link below, Ole Whiskey Revival are the third tune in. It wasn't easy picking a track to play on the show, the album is packed with gems, but, after listening through half a dozen times, I eventually chose to play Ramblin', a funky slice of Waylon-esque outlaw boogie that closes the album, inviting you to press play again.
Ole Whiskey Revival hail form Shreveport, Louisiana, home of the Louisiana Hayride back in the fifties and now home to this band of bourbon-soaked rabble rousers. Formed just four years ago by four old school friends, Alex Troegel (lead guitar and lead vocals), Trent Daugherty (guitaer and vocals), Steve Hensley (bass) and Ryan Alexander (drums and percussion), this is their first release, but you wouldn't think so to listen to it. Their command of the material and their confidence with it's presentation would suggest that these guys have enough albums behind them already. The four of them are all involved in writing the songs on the album, but Trent explained to me that Moonshine Melody was actually written by Alex while he was still in high school and that Ryan has been on a roll recently, writing the bulk of their newer material.
OWR's masterful combination of good time Southern rock and seventies outlaw country is so well conceived, played and produced that it's possible to think someone is having a joke at your expense, playing you a long-lost classic that you've somehow missed out on for decades. It's a short album, clocking in at just under 34 minutes, but that is just another one of its charms, drawing you back to the beginning one more time.
I'm hoping we rack up another first with this review, but, more importantly, I hope more reviews and radio play are just around the corner. This band deserve some recognition and plenty of sales. Do yourself a favour and hunt down Ole Whiskey Revival where ever you like to get your music form. If enough of us buy a digital copy, maybe the band will be able to press up some vinyl, I for one would happily buy it again.
Songs from the Deluge
Free Dirt Records
It’s a beautiful thing, waiting for the follow-up to a favourite album from a band you’ve already decided to love. Even better is hearing that highly anticipated second album and knowing it will be a strong contender for your album of the year, in February! Songs from the Deluge is that album and Western Centuries are that band, five extremely talented and modest musicians whose diverse musical backgrounds and tastes have coalesced into the best damn country band around, if they don’t mind me saying so. With a sound that is at once classic and modern, part Saturday night and part Sunday morning, Songs for the Deluge sees Western Centuries take their song craft to the next level, with the three songwriters and vocalists, Jim Miller (Donna the Buffalo), Ethan Lawton (Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers) and Cahalen Morrison (Country Hammer) sharing duties and bringing their own flavour to proceedings.
Kicking off the album is Lawton’s Far from Home, a tale of conscription and Vietnam dressed up as a Cajun-tinged dancer, with the added spice being brought by Grammy-winning producer Joel Savoy’s fiddle and Roddie Romero’s sweet accordion. (I was lucky enough recently to catch Savoy and Jesse Lége playing an intimate gig with their Cajun Country Revival band, and what a joy it was. Check out Savoy’s Valcour label for plenty of tasty Cajun treats). Lawton brings several of the albums highlights to the table, including the goodtime party tune Own Private Honky Tonk (a WP favourite Friday night spin) and the hungover, heart-breaking Southern soul of Three Swallows, the sort of country music you might expect to come out of Muscle Shoals. Morrison’s Earthly Justice keeps the groove solid for the second song on the album, funky drums, licking steel and rippling Rhodes combining in a head-nodder that keeps the groove in the pocket nicely when it hits double-time. The third track in, Wild Birds, sees Jim Miller step up to the mic for his tale of a band on the road, trying to get home. By this point, if you’re not hooked or converted, you’d better call an ambulance baby, somebody needs to check your pulse. By the time you get to Warm Guns at the end of the album, with Morrison’s Spanish vocal bringing the South-western vibe, you’ve been on a road trip for the ears, taking you through the venerable musical landscape of American roots and country music.
There is a lot of great music being released right now. Sometimes it is all too easy to move on to the next album, then the next, failing to allow yourself time to become fully immersed in one record for long enough to become truly familiar with it. Having lived with Songs from the Deluge for nearly three months at the time of writing, it is safe to say that this is one album that has bucked that trend, and, I feel sure, will continue to do so. It is kept at the front of the record box, in easy reach of the turntable, regularly receiving repeat spins. I suggest you all do the same, this is one of those records that makes the world a better place to be.
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.