Sunday, August 9, 2015

CD Review: Ted Drozdowski's Scissormen's Love & Life (2015)

Ted Drozdowski's Scissormen's Love & Life
It’s just not fair that one guy should be so dang talented…Nashville-based, award-winning music journalist and former Boston Phoenix editor Ted Drozdowski is a heck of a writer with keen insight and no little knowledge of the music that he covers, his words appearing in dozens of publications through the years, including Rolling Stone magazine and Billboard magazine’s Jazz & Blues Encyclopedia. Ted is also the author of Obsessions of a Music Geek, Volume 1: Blues Guitar Giants, a very cool eBook that tells the stories of blues and blues-rock giants like John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Johnny Winter, Freddie King, Michael Bloomfield, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.

If that wasn’t enough to make the average punter (or minor league rockcrit such as the Reverend) crazed with envy, Drozdowski also fronts the Scissormen, one of the leanest, meanest, bad-ass gang of juke-joint blues noisemakers to roll down the highway on four fiery, alcohol-fueled wheels in as long as the Rev can remember. Ted’s gruff, soulful vocals, erudite songwriting chops, and greasy six-string pyrotechnics, combined with the band’s percussive din, make the Scissormen natural heirs to the Delta and Hill Country blues traditions.

Love & Life, the second Scissormen studio album (and fifth recording overall) follows their acclaimed 2012 CD/DVD release Big Shoes: Walking and Talking the Blues, a live set documenting the final reunion tour of the original two-piece version of the band, which was also captured by filmmaker Robert Mugge’s 90-minute documentary film. Underwritten by the Scissormen’s fans around the world via a crowd-funding campaign, and released on Drozdowski’s independent Dolly Sez Woof label, Love & Life features a new band line-up and an aggressive, primal sound that straddles the fence between traditional country blues and high-energy, highly-amped blues-rock.

Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen’s Love & Life

Featuring a slate of eleven mostly-original songs – save for a lone cover of Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” – Love & Life kicks off with the low-slung, Texas-styled groove of “Beggin’ Jesus,” a morality tale featuring an infectious riff and Paul Brown’s melodic keyboards. The song’s protagonist may be seeking salvation, but he’s having too much fun sinnin’ to stop now. With Brown’s keyboards providing the church choir, Drozdowski’s chaotic solos are balanced by his steady, hypnotic riffing. The following song, “Letter From Hell,” seems to reflect the preceding song’s protagonist in his final destination, drummer Matt Snow’s syncopated percussion providing the perfect framework for Drozdowski’s shotgun guitar licks. The song’s blues-hued ambiance is bolstered by its undeniable, foot-shuffling rhythms.

Drozdowski’s original “Watermelon Kid” is a fine tribute to blues legend Watermelon Slim, his lyrics perfectly capturing the man’s essence with just a few finely-crafted verses. Drozdowski’s vocals are delivered above a sparse, almost haunting arrangement, with piercing, nearly psychedelic guitar lines swirling around your head and punctuating the lyrics with certainty. The softer in tone “Let’s Go To Memphis” is a delicious slice of old-school Southern soul featuring the magnificent voice of the Mighty Sam McClain. His warm, rich vocals soaring above a reverent soundtrack that features Drozdowski’s subtle, chiming fretwork and Brown’s creative keyboard flourishes, McClain offers a wonderful performance on what is essentially a love note to the Bluff City and its deep musical heritage.

Can’t Be Satisfied

Paying honor to another blues legend, as well as Drozdowski’s friend and mentor, “R.L. Burnside (Sleight Return)” is a spankin’ good song, featuring some of the guitarist’s finest guitar playing as well as Marshall Dunn’s sly recurring bass line. Drozdowski’s lyrics are insightful and personal, the sentiment heartfelt, and the performance simply blistering with imaginative fretwork and rock-solid percussion. The album’s lone cover, the aforementioned “Can’t Be Satisfied,” is writ larger than life, Drozdowski and crew taking the Chicago blues giant’s song back to the Mississippi Hill Country with a locomotive rhythm, and buzzing, rattling, strident guitar licks that hit your ears with the speed of a falcon and the force of a sledgehammer.

Musically, “Black Lung Fever” is slightly less manic in pace than “Can’t Be Satisfied,” but it’s no less intense. A highly personal tale of backbreaking labor and tragedy, “Black Lung Fever” details the coal miner’s plight with venomous lyrics, fierce guitar lines, and blustery percussion. Brown’s keyboards paint outside the edges to intensify the song’s already muscular sonic cacophony to heighten its malevolent vibe. By contrast, the melancholy “Dreaming On The Road” is a hard-luck tale of the weary American dreamer, Drozdowski’s lonely acoustic guitar the perfect accompaniment to his wistful lyrics. Switching gears again, “Living To Tell” is a blues-rock wildfire that references John Lee Hooker in its black cat moan tale, the song’s swamp-blues voodoo giving way to an explosive instrumental clash between good and evil complete with slashing guitars and crashing rhythms.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

It’s no surprise that Ted Drozdowski would be a fine blues songwriter, his often-minimalist lyrics managing to capture a great deal of emotion in a few words while still conveying brilliant imagery. It’s with his innovative fretwork that Drozdowski really shines, though, the guitarist pulling together disparate threads in the creation of a unique sound. You’ll hear scraps of the Hill Country drone of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough as well as the haunted melodies of Robert Johnson sitting side-by-side the troubled soul of John Lee Hooker and the fatback slide-guitar sound of Muddy Waters, all expressed through Drozdowski’s personal muse.

You won’t find a tastier slab o’ off-highway juke-joint blues than Drozdowski's Love & Life anywhere these days…he may be one enviously talented sumbitch, but Ted Drozdowski and the Scissormen are the stone cold real deal… Grade: A (Dolly Sez Woof Recordings, released July 31, 2015)

Buy the album from CD Baby

Buy the eBook from Ted Drozdowski's Obsessions of a Music Geek: Volume I: Blues Guitar Giants

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