ZERO-2-SIXTY Scott Ellison (Swordfish Records) *****
Scott Ellison’s new record is a tour de force exploration of lowdown, dirty blues. Zero-2-Sixty is a rowdy beast- not ill-mannered, but none too polite. With a Stones-like swagger and songs that get under your skin right away, this thing is righteous.
Zero-2-Sixty is described as “from Chicago meets Texas meets Oklahoma shuffle and groove to a full tilt blues workout, pure soul blues and just about every point in between”, which works; sort of like Muddy Waters meets JJ Cale. The disc features Scott’s primary live band on some tracks, plus special guests and longtime friends from Tulsa on others. Scott also co-wrote all 12 of these tracks with Michael Price, 4 of those with Michael and Chris Campbell. “It was an honor and privilege to work with all my brothers” Ellison says.
Produced by Scott Ellison and Steve Barri, Zero-2-Sixty has a gritty, authentic feel and sound; nothing too bright and shiny here, that just wouldn’t suit the music. I don’t have the session notes in front of me, but the melodic basslines coupled with a direct, unfussy Charlie Watts-like approach on the drums make the rhythm section unexpectedly effective. Sure I’ve heard blues records with far more technically accomplished production, but very few more on point than the sleeves-rolled-up-and-sweat-dripping-in-your-eyes vibes coming off of this one. Perfect imperfections, you might say.
Scott Ellison has a gruff, soulful voice and his bareknuckle guitar playing can’t help but command your attention. Some of the lead breaks and accents have a downright rude and wrong side of the tracks appeal, which fits Zero-2-Sixty spectacularly well. From up-tempo shuffles to slow burning blues numbers, there’s quite a bit for blues aficionados to sink their teeth into here. The primary purpose of music is to make you feel something, and for that alone this album earns a perfect score with room to spare.
HOT TRACKS: You Can’t Hurt Me No Mo, That’s How I Love My Woman, Before The Teardrops Fell
BURN THESE BRIDGES Justin Tipton & The Troublemakers (independent) ****
This is a pile of songs with very serious mojo. Drawing on Tipton’s passion for country, rock, blues and folk, Burn These Bridges is a bit of a hot mess but in the coolest way. Not as rough and tumble as Neil Young’s Crazy Horse, more like a combo of Tom Petty and Steve Earle. There are a number of songs here with hit potential across a number of formats- it’s bad-ass rockin’.
Justin knew what he wanted to be when he picked up a toy guitar as a wee lad. Then, in 2009, his dad took him to a local club to see Band Of Heathens and his fate was sealed; a prolific singer/ songwriter was born. Burn These Bridges leans pretty heavily on country but it rocks too, in a way that would keep a bunch of beered-up blue collar types on the dancefloor all night. Tipton’s band is a mean machine; Sawyer McGee (drums), Josh Vaughn (guitar), Jesse Thompson (bass), Chris Watson & Chad Stockslager (keyboards). The intuitive interplay between all of these guys is really a delight to behold.
Burn These Bridges is well produced and mixed; not too fussy yet not too rough around the edges either, sort of like the first Matt Mays & El Torpedo album I heard back in ’05.. That is thanks to John Pedigo, known for his work with Old 97’s, Vandoliers and Joshua Ray Walker. The songs have real heft without being brutish, real meat on their bones. Justin Tipton has developed a confessional style of songwriting that contains grit and humor and, thanks to his country influences, maybe an ounce of regret. If you’re tired of turning on the radio, or streaming service, or however you listen to music and hearing musical wallpaper, Burn These Bridges will take you to another place. These stories will feel familiar because you’ve lived some of them. Burn These Bridges is the sound of real life being well lived.
HOT TRACKS: Back To Being Me, Don’t Make Me Sleep Alone, Your Mama Don’t Like Me
TWERE BUT IT WERE SO SIMPLE Rust Dust (Omad) ***
A refreshing quirky record here from Jason Stutts, who goes by the stage name of Rust Dust. Twere But It Were So Simple is his second record for the label. Overall, with a few exceptions, this feels like an acoustic folk album… and sometimes that fits the mood just right.
For Rust Dust songs can take shape either in minutes or over the course of years, and that’s how he likes it. “I don’t typically sit down to write a song” he says. “Sometimes I’m lucky enough to recognize them when they appear.” Twere is a deceptively simple, spacious sounding album, recorded live in a Brooklyn brownstone. “When these songs felt ready, I just set up multiple microphones and played them through an amplifier” Jason/ Rust says. “With the exception of Must Be Jelly, what you hear is how they came out live with a few effects in the mix.”
My initial impression is this feels kind of like an old Bruce Cockburn record; acoustic, uncomplicated and straightforward with lyrical ideas that tickle your brain. Jason Stutts’s day job is repairing and restoring vintage guitars, and he had his pick from a floor-to-ceiling collection to use here. That said, only 2 guitars were used on TBIWSS; an old Yamaha nylon string, and a Godin Multiac, a modern nylon string electric designed to sound acoustic when plugged in. The songs are mostly just his voice and a guitar… it’s a pretty naked album.
Lots of different vibes here, from the New Orleans pomp of Must Be Jelly to the achingly personal title track where Jason sings about “snakes in my pockets, and a rope around my neck”. The jaunty instrumental Helter Fukov Awakens that opens the record feels like a perfect set-up for what’s to follow. He’s not the strongest vocalist to be sure, but there’s a quirky sort charm in the way he brings his songs across. Semi-surreal covers of Knocking On Heaven’s Door and You Got To Move are also included. This is hard to take seriously yet easy to enjoy at the same time. No face melting solos or particularly intricate picking, just quiet fun.
HOT TRACKS: UFO, This New Light, Helter Fukov Awakens
EYES CLOSED, DREAMING Steve Dawson (Black Hen Music) *****+
This is the third album of material written and recorded by Dawson during the pandemic, also his third release in about a year. Eyes Closed Dreaming is absorbing and conducive to letting go as were Gone Long Gone and Phantom Threshold. Some seriously excellent playing and evocative storytelling is happening that takes you away.
“This is the 3rd and final album I’m releasing of music I recorded during the pandemic” Steve says in the press release. “Through the months of isolation, some good friends and I dialed in a way of working remotely that kept us busy, somewhat employed and relatively musically active. (The) 3 albums are very connected sonically and emotionally.” Eyes Closed, Dreaming is exquisitely produced and performed, and feeling thrilled at the musicianship on display is just the first step on an incredibly vibrant journey through the center of Dawson’s mind.
Steve is an acclaimed producer in his own right, working out of his Nashville studio. Generally speaking, all 3 of these records were recorded at the same time. “Many of the songs spread out through the 3 albums were recorded on the same day” Dawson notes. “When the process was complete I had to split the songs up into 3 different albums, and this is where I landed. I guess in my mind there’s a bit more of a traditional side to the new album, and so I put some of the older material in there (along with) a Bobby Charles song and a Johnny Cash song. I hope that the material I wrote with Matt Patershuk on here can stand up to (them).”
Maybe it’s the leisurely approach taken by Dawson & Co. here, but ECD is relaxing and musically arousing at the same time. Lots of different moods on the disc, including the ironically titled Singin’ The Blues which is actually an instrumental. With Eyes Closed, Dreaming it seems Steve Dawson has saved the best for last. I have to be up early tomorrow for work but screw it, I’m listening to this one more time before bed. Street date is March 24th.
HOT TRACKS: Let Him Go On Mama, Hemmingway, Singin’ The Blues
ALL MY SHADOWS Eerie Monsters (Frontiers) *****
A sweet debut from these German rockers. All my Shadows, founded by Vanden Plas members Stephan Lill (guitars) and Andy Kuntz (vocals), makes an immediate and powerful impression. Eerie Monsters, their debut, is like Scorpions meet Judas Priest and it’s glorious.
Kuntz’s vocals have range and impact with a touch of Klaus Meine’s timbre, and Stephan Lill’s guitar playing is thick and driving. That Eerie Monsters is inspired by 80’s rock is immediately obvious, and Lill readily admits to be a fan of groups like Whitesnake, Ozzy and Dokken. “The goal was to transport that classic music into the here and now “ he says, “hard rock with powerful production, peppered with modern musical elements.” With that as the goal, A.M.S. succeeds quite easily.
The original goal was to have a different singer on each song of this project. Stephan brought Andy, his musical partner to write the lyrics, but after demoing the first 4 songs it was obvious that he should sing the rest as well. Keyboardist Markus Teske- owner of Bazement Studios where Vanden Plas has recorded since ’02- was next on board, followed by Franky R. (bass) and Stephan’s brother Andreas (also of Vanden Plas) on drums. So why isn’t this a VP album? “Vanden Plas stands very much for progressive metal in all its variations, while All My Shadows stands very much for melodic hard rock” Stephan Lill notes. “Musical points of contact are there, overlaps are not. All My Shadows have all the characteristics to have their own identity.”
There is a primitive power to Eerie Monsters, an immediate physical gratification that makes you want to hit the lights and play air guitar. The riffs are propulsive and inspiring and you can feel the sweat of all the band members as they hunker down and drive it. I confess to being unfamiliar with Vandes Plas’s music and the ‘progressive rock’ label makes me skittish in the same way jazz does. One thing I AM sure of; I like this a great deal.
HOT TRACKS: Wolverinized, Silent Waters, Devil’s Ride
THE WOLF IS AT OUR DOOR Wolf Mail (Kobalt Music Group) ****
This is the 7th album from this Australian based Canadian blues ‘n’ roots singer and guitarist, a guy Player Magazine Japan calls “the master of the Telecaster”. Written and recorded between 2021 and 2002, The Wolf Is At Our Door is gut level blues with volcanic energy, recalling- perhaps intentionally- the feral magic of the late, great Howlin’ Wolf. Yeah this is blues but it rocks… and it rocks hard.
If you want to know the details of his life and what took him from his first gig at the age of 14 to where he is today, the bio on his website (wolf-mail.com) will answer all your questions. Sometimes racking up over 200 shows a year, Wolf Mail has put in the miles and paid his dues. As you listen it becomes obvious right quick that he was born to sing the blues. The Wolf Is At Our Door also shows his range as a guitarist, from bareknuckle hard rockin’ riffage to a Hendrixian fluidity on the leads sprinkled throughout tracks like When I’m Gone.
The Wolf Is At Our Door took shape all over the world. Pre-production happened in Sydney, with overdubs handled in The Netherlands plus drums and percussion recorded in the South of France; quite Rolling Stones-y. Some fat, relentless guitar with beautiful lead breaks and greasy slide make this album a pleasure to listen to. There’s a 60’s/70’s rock & roll current running through these songs that make them easy to connect to as well but hey, without the blues there wouldn’t be any rock & roll. I enjoy it when Wolf is burning up the fretboard, but when you dive into a slow blues akin to Like A Road, that stuff hits me where I live.
Blues is better on stage, and there’s a palpable live energy to The Wolf Is At Our Door you’ll find irresistible. If you’re into Stevie Ray-type blues, this will really twist your nipples.
HOT TRACKS: Bad As Blues, Albert’s Theme, When I’m Gone