DEJA HOODOO Lew Jetton & 61 South (Endless Blues Records) ****+
Lew Jetton & 61 South are back to charm us with the 5th album in their 30 year career. Deja Hoodoo is a generous helping of 16 tracks combining blues, southern rock and boogie with a nod and a wink for a rollicking good time. This is blues you can use.
Deja Hoodoo finds Lew Jetton & 61 South reflecting on 30 years of dive bars, juke joints, honky tonks with chicken wire wrapped stages, festivals, parties, tattoo conventions, biker rallies, hoedowns and throw downs, making the kind of infectious boogie blues that their fans love so much. This disc includes some of their most requested songs, like the amusing Waffle House Woman and the hard blues of I Been Cheated. As a singer Lew reminds me of Gregg Allman with a southern warmth in his voice that makes these songs quite easy to approach. The core band includes Jetton on guitar and vocals, Sam Moore on guitar and vocals, Dan Bell on keys, guitar, bass and vocals, Erik Eicholtz on drums plus Greg Walker on bass, with a list of talented friends lending a hand too. I talk a lot about groove, and Deja Hoodoo has it up the ying-yang.
Although there is some serious musicianship happening on this album, the songs are about having a good time, the perfect roadhouse soundtrack to a payday Friday night. In assessing Lew Jetton Downbeat Magazine says “key to (his) appeal, an under appreciated singer and guitarist, is his integration of true intent and heaps of heart.” In other words, he plays it like he means it, and so do his guys. No trend chasing or chart climbing going on here, just some talented musicians playing the type of music that gets their motors runnin’ as they pass that joy on to the rest of us.
One of the things I’m digging about Deja Hoodoo is that it isn’t just a guitar-centric or harp heavy blues record, there’s lots of really cool piano playing going on here; as blues albums go, it’s quite well balanced. I don’t know if this was recorded live off the floor but it sure feels like it. I’m not overly fond of the way the drums sound on some of these tracks, particularly the kick drum when it sounds like somebody beating on a Rubbermaid bin with a wooden spoon, but maybe that’s just me. Taken as a whole, Deja Hoodoo is quite wonderful.
HOT TRACKS: Mexico, I Been Cheated, Waffle House Woman
IMPACT IS IMMINENT Anvil (AFM Records) ***
I had no idea these Canadian metal legends were so prolific… if Wikipedia is correct, Impact Is Imminent is Anvil’s 19th studio album. Riff powered blunt force trauma is how I would characterize this follow-up to 2020’s Legal At Last which, I’m sure, is just what the fans were hoping for. Nothing delicate or fancy here, just metal cranked up to 10.
“None of our previous albums blend music and lyrics into as tight a unit as Impact Is Imminent” says singer/ guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow. “The new material sounds monolithic, right down to the very last detail, in terms of rhythm and harmonies.” This is a very physical album, the sounds pounding and punishing, for a vibe somewhere between early Scorpions or Accept and Spinal Tap, and maybe Judas Priest. Thanks to the pandemic downtime Steve notes that “not only was there plenty of time for the songwriting process in the run-up to the recordings, but I also had the leisure to put all of my ideas to the acid test and work on them until they were perfect.”
Lots to appreciate on this molten beast, like the churning wall of riffs and Kudlow’s distinctly Ace Frehley-esque lead breaks, which is not a knock; I love Ace. The bedrock to Anvil’s heavy sound is drummer Robb Reiner and bassist Chris Robertson, with bass work that really thickens the sound and an aggressive kick drum attack that keeps things moving. The songs are for the most part basic, even simple, but this is metal after all; let’s not over-think it. Impact is introduced by Dave Grohl (sounds like a live show) and one of the songs, the full tilt boogie instrumental Gomez at the end, has horns.
There’s a certain appeal on Anvil’s pummeling attack, what Steve Kudlow describes as “monolithic”, and his emotional guitar solos are a definite highlight of Impact but if I’m being honest here the last album, Legal At Last, was a better record. When I find myself needing a kick in the ass with a steel toed boot, Impact Is Imminent will get the call.
HOT TRACKS: Wizard’s Wand, Tea Bag, Someone To Hate
LOST HIGHWAY The Actual Goners (independent) ****
This is the full length debut album for these Canadian roots rockers. In Lost Highway you’ll feel the influence of bands like Blue Rodeo and The Tragically Hip, yet The Actual Goners have a sound all their own. This record makes friends quite quickly.
The Actual Goners began as award-winning Canuck songwriters Tristan Armstrong and Duncan Symonds, who made their way across the country from Vancouver Island to their current home base of Toronto, driven by a passion for live performance. Their songs capture and celebrate the compelling moments we all find in unglamorous day-to-day life, making Lost Highway one of those albums that everyone can relate to.
The Actual Goners have a none too slick sound, maybe a little coarse, that reminds me a little of Matt Mays & El Torpedo’s self titled debut from (I think) 2005. Lost Highway also reminds me of Blue Rodeo’s more rock & roll stuff; so it was hardly a surprise to learn in the press info provided that Glen Milchem of that band played drums here. This disc was engineered and produced by Aaron Goldstein who, to his credit, didn’t polish everything to a glossy pop sheen. These songs sound as lived in as the people Tristan and Duncan are singing about with a sort of precision that isn’t too tightly wound. Stints for the guys in Nashville and New Orleans also play a part in the band’s sound.
Lost Highway follows the 5 independent releases they’ve put out since 2019’s Henhouse Sessions, tracked and mixed at Steve Dawson’s Nashville studios. Given that Nashville was their recording start it’s no surprise that you’ll hear a little twang now and again on the new album, but there’s an earthy quality to the songs that transcends any attempts to pigeonhole them into this genre or that, but I suppose ‘roots rock’ gets as close as anything to describe The Actual Goners. They wear their influences on their sleeves; Springsteen, Wilco and Matt Mays (of course), while lyrically they come across like Lucinda Williams and Gord Downie… overall, an arresting combination.
Driving and insistent but not frantic songs about everyday life; that’s Lost Highway. What’s not to love?
HOT TRACKS: Still On Your Side, Molasses, Lost Highway
AMERICAN STATIC VOL.2 Andrew Leahey & The Homestead (Mule Kick Records) ****
This is the second half of a double album project, with Vol.1 being released late last year. American Static Vol.2 is more of the same kind of ‘heartland roots rock’ that we were introduced to on the previous record. Equal parts Tom Petty, George Harrison and Cheap Trick, hooky yet unassuming rock & roll- not unlike mid-period British Invasion.
As I noted when reviewing Vol.1 last November, these albums owe much to the circumstances of the pandemic. “This project came together while we were all stuck at home” says Leahey, who wrote all of the songs for Vol.1 and Vol.2 around the same time. “I certainly felt like a static American, shut indoors for a year. But there’s a real sense of movement to that title too. Imagine a radio dial that’s being turned, with static occurring between stations. That static is simply the noise you have to hear before you find something better. American Static is an album about immobility and transition… about the things that linger in our way and the paths we take past them.”
As I’ve found with the music of guys like Mellencamp and Springsteen here in my later years, Leahey’s tales of everyday life have real heart and resonance. I’ve never been fond of the term ‘heartland rock’ but dammit, it actually applies here. From the barnstorming opener Caught Like A Fire to the mid-tempo doo-wop pace of Hanging Heavy with a great rhythmic piano, there seems to be a song for every mood. For those of us that feel like we work, pay bills then die, a song like Stay Awake with a greasy CCR groove demonstrates that Leahey knows exactly how we feel.
No Depression says “this is contemporary American roots-rock at its finest, championed by an ensemble that’s easily among the best of their breed”, and what I said last year about American Static Vol.1 last year applies here too; Electric guitars, vocal harmonies, melancholic piano and cinematic hooks make this feel like a cross between Tom Petty and maybe early Eagles… in other words, great “thinkin’ about stuff” music that transcends genres and generations.” American Static Vol.2 is another homerun for Andrew Leahey & The Homestead, and you can taker that to the bank.
HOT TRACKS: Hanging Heavy, Caught Like A Fire, Sign Of The Times
COMPLICATED Jeff Scott Soto (Frontiers) *** ½
Here is the latest from journeyman hard rock singer Jeff Scott Soto. He’s been around the block a time or three, and Complicated is his 8th official solo studio album. With a talented, hard-driving band behind him, Soto has once again come up with the goods. As the follow-up to last fall’s album of duets, this is pretty good stuff.
Jeff Scott Soto’s career spans nearly 30 years, starting with Yngwie Malmsteen before going on to front bands like Talisman, SirkUS and Sons Of Apollo, as well as an ongoing membership in The Trans Siberian Orchestra and even a stint as the singer for Journey. Jeff has more than 60 albums under his belt along with numerous collaborations and recordings. A singer doesn’t get that much work unless he brings it every single time. As you might expect of someone that has worked with people like those just listed, Soto has a powerful voice with an impressive range that serves him just as well on epic ballads like Until I See You Again. He has the power and finesse to wring the emotion out of virtually any lyric he might happen to sing.
JSS teamed up with producer Alessandro Del Vecchio, who I’ve mentioned a couple of times just lately in reviews of other Frontier artists. True to his titanic work ethic, Alessandro also plays bass and keys on Complicated. Lots of mid-tempo grooving on this disc, which feels pretty good but can sort of wear on you after awhile. It’s interesting that here we are 32 years after the end of the 80’s, and yet artists like this are still making 80’s-style rock & roll with a similar pace and melodic density. Then he throws in a hard charging positive number like New Horizon with a guitar solo from Fabrizio Sgattoni that sounds like it could’ve been Vinnie Vincent.
Ultimately, how you feel about Jeff Scott Soto’s Complicated may lean heavily on how you feel about 80’s style hard rock. Poo-pooed by many it was melodic and well constructed, and I happen to like it. If that’s your jam, then this will be too.
HOT TRACKS: New Horizon, Last to Know, Back To The Beginning
WISH HER WELL Emma Wilson (EW Music) *****
Emma Wilson is a relatively new voice on the British blues scene but she won’t be a secret for very long. Wish Her Well is Emma’s first full length album, following two critically praised and well received EP’s in 2020. Wilson sings the blues with a range, finesse and soul you don’t often encounter all at once, to spellbinding effect.
Wish Her Well is 10 original songs that deal with love, death, lust, rejection, empowerment and heartbreak delivered in a mix of blues, northern soul, rock and gospel. Emma Wilson says her influences include Ann Peebles, Aretha, Mavis Staples, Little Feat and Robert Cray, all of which she references while maintaining her own unique sound. Some of the UK’s most elite musicians are in the studio with her; drummer Mat Hector (Iggy Pop), bassist Mark Neary (Noel Gallagher) and guitarist Adam Chetwood (Mark Ronson, Imelda May). Aside from the bounty of talent involved, the spirit of Wish Her Well also owes much to being recorded live- you know, like people used to all the time. That organic sense of give and take between the players, the groove, is evident.
From a lusty shout to a coy purr, Emma Wilson is one of those singers that can bring whatever a song needs to get across, what Blues Matters Magazine refers to as “luscious, beautiful vocals.” Produced and arranged by Emma, Mark, Mat and Adam, and mixed by Mark, Wish Her Well has an intriguing sound that I’m not sure how to articulate. It’s not bright and shiny, and it’s not lo-fi either. The guitars are clean enough, but it sounds like there’s some compression on the bass and drums which gives the songs a pleasingly elastic feel. I usually like the percussion to be on the dry side, mic’d close and a little more up front, but that sound really works here and I have no idea why.
Emma gives some fine vocal performances here with a powerful voice that brings the right character to the tunes; from the high, lonesome falsetto of Mary Lou to the brassy, pissed off dame in Not Paying to everything in between. Wish Her Well is a disc that really takes you on a journey, musically, lyrically and emotionally, and I look forward to taking that trip on a regular basis.
HOT TRACKS: She Isn’t You, Wish Her Well, Not Paying