Saturday, July 14, 2018
Short Rounds: The Damnation of Adam Blessing, Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio, Howlin' Rain & Rockers OST (2018)
The Damnation of Adam Blessing – The Damnation of Adam Blessing (Exit Stencil Records, vinyl reissue)
The heavy, psych-drenched guitar rock and molten sludge riffs of the self-titled 1969 debut album by Cleveland, Ohio’s The Damnation of Adam Blessing was easily five years ahead of its time. Band namesake Blessing’s vocals are of the period, strongly bluesy with power and nuance, but the band’s complex, textured, and highly-amplified hard rock sound reminds of Blue Cheer while beating Black Sabbath to the gates of doom with guitarists Bob Kalamasz’s blistering leads and Jim Quinn’s thick rhythmic designs. Original tunes like the slightly-jazzy “Dreams,” the riff-happy “Hold On,” or the mournful, dark-hued “Lonely” play to the band’s instrumental strengths, but a cover of Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew” (a Grateful Dead fave) is hauntingly beautiful with its stinging fretwork, and the Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville” is provided a deeply funky instrumental groove and joyfully delivered with all the glee of a dog playing with a chew toy. Grade: A BUY IT!
A high-priced “Holy Grail” of psych-rock collectors, indie vinyl reissue label Exit Stencil Records has brought both of the legendary Cleveland rock band’s first two albums back to shiny black vinyl. Released in 1970, The Second Damnation features the same players but displays a modicum of artistic growth beyond the debut’s bludgeoning riffs and gale-force rhythms. Opening track “No Way” is delightfully doom-drenched while the molten licks and muscular rhythms of “Driver” are in a league with contemporary metallic-blues outfits like Cactus and Josephus. “Back To the River” is a dense, bluesy jam featuring Bob Kalamasz’s stunning fretwork, the socially-conscious “Money Tree” rumbles like a gang-fight with switchblade guitars, and the locomotive “In the Morning” welds a funky groove to an uncompromising hard rock din. The Second Damnation falls just short of the debut, but is every bit as rockin’. Kudos to Exit Stencil, too, for the über-cool gatefold repro cover! Grade: B+ BUY IT!
Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio is a lean, mean, blues-making machine, and with the band’s second effort, Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here, they pursue a tack similar to their self-titled 2017 debut. The musical chemistry of these three talented veterans undeniable; and Bishop’s trademark sense of humor sharply defines the politically-charged title track, the story-song “Lookin’ Good,” and the loping “That’s The Way Willy Likes It.” Beautifully-performed vintage R&B covers like “I Can’t Stand the Rain” feature Willy Jordan’s deeply-soulful vocals while the instrumental “Bob’s Boogie” displays pianist Bob Welsh’s fleet fingers and infectious sense of rhythm. Bishop’s twangy instrumental “Stomp” is the perfect showcase for his often-underrated six-string skills while “My Soul” is a juicy, Cajun-styled blues romp that shows off the trio’s individual chops. Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio doesn’t break any new ground here, but they’re having a hell of a time just makin’ music! Grade: B BUY IT!
A damn fine rock band, Howlin’ Rain nevertheless brings a soupçon of its previous Americana-styled twang to the songs on The Alligator Bride, their fifth album. Infusing deceptively complex tunes with elements of the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and even Joe Walsh, The Alligator Bride provides a shining display of frontman Ethan Miller’s songwriting chops and the band’s immense instrumental skills. There are a lot of echoes of the past in these grooves, the album evincing a convincing early ‘70s rock vibe, each song’s sonic bliss driven by Miller’s plaintive vocals, the twin ringing guitars of Miller and Dan Cervantes, and a rock-solid rhythm section. There are only seven songs, clocked at a breakneck 40 minutes, but with flamethrowers like the epic title track and the raging “Missouri,” or the dreamy “Speed,” you won’t get whiplash. The album’s wonderfully-balanced musical dynamics make it sound like it’s 1975 all over again. Grade: A BUY IT!
Reissued on red, green, and yellow-splashed vinyl that looks simply glorious spinning on your turntable, this soundtrack to the 1978 semi-documentary film Rockers provides a brief but toothsome history of the reggae genre. The LP hits many of the expected notes – Junior Murvin’s hypnotic “Police & Thieves” (later covered by the Clash), Peter Tosh’s blistering “Stepping Razor,” the Maytones’ melodic “Money Worries,” and Burning Spear’s powerful spiritual expression “Jah No Dead – but it offers a few pleasant surprises as well. Junior Byles’ “Fade Away” is a damning indictment of social inequality featuring haunting vocals and staccato rhythms; Bunny Wailer offers an equally devastating performance on the album’s title track, sounding like Curtis Mayfield singing to a reggae beat; and Gregory Isaacs’ “Slave Masters” is simply mesmerizing, its caustic lyrics matched by a deceptive rhythmic drone. Featuring fourteen burning tracks, Rockers is “must have” LP for any serious reggae collection. Grade: A BUY IT!
Previously on That Devil Music.com:
Short Rounds, May 2018: Brinsley Schwarz, Eric Corne, Roger McGuinn & Shuggie Otis
Short Rounds, April 2018: Catfish, Jimmie Vaughan Trio, King Crimson & Memphis Rent Party
Short Rounds, March 2018: 6 String Drag, The Doors, the Nick Moss Band & Jack White