Monday, June 7, 2010

Black Bone Child - Alligator

If you were a casual reader of the Ripple Effect, you might think that we were members of Black Bone Child.  I mean, simply search the archives and you’ll find more column inches devoted to this band than any other that has ever graced the Ripple pages.  If we were any less confident in the rollicking, barnstorming brand of modern rock, swampy blues that these cats churn out, we may even begin to wonder if you waveriders could get tired of reading about them.

Fortunately, we don’t think about it that hard.  And just as fortunately, the industrious Donny James and Kenneth M. just keep on cranking out one glorious burner after another. 

Now these cats went ahead and took the D.I.Y. ethic of hard work and diligence just one step beyond, releasing two CD’s of new material on the same day.  My Ripple brethren, The Pope, already reviewed the jaw-dropping, stunning acoustic affair that was Take You Blind.  Now it’s my turn to try and find the words to summarize the total victory of groove and glory that is Alligator.

Joined in their home, White Door Studio, by guitarist, Jason King and drummer Steve Hudson, Alligator finds a band building off the momentum they created with their gobsmacker of a debut and upping the intensity to a whole new level.   That’s not to say that Alligator is an entirely new musical beast.  It’s not.  Rather, Alligator follows right on the heels of the debut, building on the strengths of their performance and upping the ante big time for what’s to follow.

“Run Away,” kicks us off right off the get-go, thunderously loud and heavy, as the band jump right into a monstrous riff.  Present is that definitive Black Bone Child, subterranean low and heavy bass tone of Kenny M.  Present is the throaty soulful vocals of Donny James, more confident and engaging than ever.  And present is the battering assault on the drums that is “Tucky” Steve and the added intensity of “Whiskey” Jason ripping the frets off his six-string.   This is a full-on, dropped-into-the-swamp, rock and roll event.  Listen to the flourishes of muddy guitar at the end of each stanza.  My God, listen to that bass tone when it gets the time to shine alone.  Feel the percussive force of the drums.  Don’t listen to it, feel it I say!  This is about as intense an opening song as I’ve heard in a while.

I don’t normally talk about production in a review, but since this whole thing is a studio-in-the-backyard, D.I.Y. effort I gotta say that the boys have grown in the studio as well as in the performance.  This is an album that rewards deep listening, paying attention to the recording, mixing and production.   On “Run Away” alone we get a perfect mix that just blasts the funk of the bass right into the front of the sound without drowning the vocals or guitars.   Subtle guitar ticks and flourishes abound.    The drumming and percussion are impeccably tight, in your face when it’s supposed to be, and lurking in the background when it serves the song.  Everything just sounds bigger on this album. The bass is bigger, the guitars, the drums. And when I say bigger, I mean huge—like ten foot tall Gibsons with telephone lines for strings.

Black Bone Child always had their own sound, more than a fusion of their influences.  If “Run Away,” attacked like the best White Stripes song you’ve always wanted to hear, the guitar tone of  “Be Your Man,” brings on visions of the more bluesier Zeppelin.   Another terror of a song, this sums up all that Black Bone Child is.  Following an attention-grabbing drum intro, the guitars layer on, open-bodied and full.  The band launches into a melody that instantly grabs my inner ear before the whole thing stops on a dime and a blazing guitar slices through the mix, shooting the song off like some swamp, mud-beast rising from the murky water.  What we got now is a foot-stomping, ass-shaking, bring-on-the-sweat, groover.   Having seen this song performed live, I can tell you that none of its passion got lost in the studio.  The boys play it as if they were on stage performing to 10,000 fans.  I can almost imagine Kenny’s right foot in constant motion, stomping out the beat.

In fact, that can be said of the whole album.  Nothing got lost from the stage to the studio here, every song brings that packed-club intensity.  And best of all, despite its bracing attack, Alligator still maintains all the warmth and intimacy of the best of Black Bone Child.  “You Oughta Know,” unleashes another wave of escaped-from-the-marshy-bog rock and roll.  Donny’s voice is in fine form as the band bash out another bluesy, garage monster, with a vocal/guitar chorus sure to convert the uninitiated.   

No review of this album could exist without special mention of “Baby Baby.”  Yeah, I know it’s self-serving, but when the band debut’s a song on our very own radio show, playing it live acoustic on-the-air just one day after writing it, well, fuck it, that’s special.  Turns out that “Baby Baby” is one hell of a song, Ripple involvement or not.  With Kenny blowing his lungs out on harmonica, Donny soulfully rasping over some scratching guitar and handclaps, “Baby Baby” is enough to cause the whole damn barn to ignite.   Throw in some serious string-bending guitar breaks, killer harmony vocals from Kenny, and a verse that just begs for audience screaming, and we may have the definitive Black Bone Child statement.  The encapsulation of all that the band brings in a two minutes and forty-four seconds of driving intensity. 

I said earlier that Alligator was released at the same time as Take You Blind, so you may wonder why it’s taken us so long to review it.  Simply put, having both Black Bone Child albums come to our door on the same day was just too much.  Both Pope and I blew a mass of brain cells as our steamy man-love affair for these guys went into overdrive.  Take You Blind, was such a passionate, intense album that neither of us could imagine anything ever standing next to it.  Finally, with the passage of time, I could get Alligator into the CD drive and give it a fair listen.  And I’m happy to say, that Take You Blind has a worthy companion.  An album that gets fuller and more addictive with each listen.

Gents, I raise my glass to you.  Next whiskey’s on me.


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