Skinny Molly’s ‘Haywire Riot’ is the album they have always threatened to make. It’s an excellent southern rock album with a bluesy feel, some lovely guitar tones, fine harmony singing and above all Mike Estes’s excellent songs.
And it’s the core combination of Estes’ guitar playing, his baritone vocals and a hand full of strong narratives that mark him out as a mover and shaker on the southern rock scene. Jay Johnson adds supporting guitar and harmonies on an impressive album.
‘Haywire Riot’ is also a fresh departure for Ruf records, a label with a predominantly blues roster. But this well crafted album is stylish enough to fit into the broader roots category and carries the kind of grooves that reflects a hard working road band. There’s much to admire from some steaming rockers to heart felt ballads and an occasional alt. country reference.
Apparently the album was cut twice, with the re-recording being presided over by Mike and the band. The result is a bright sonic quality with a wide variety of guitar tones and intense scorching riffs, underpinned by the ever-present rhythm section of Luke Bradshaw and Kurt Pietro.
The most refreshing thing is the way the songs incorporate a crossover style that is rooted in rock, but changes its emphasis according to Mike Estes’s colourful narratives. The opening ‘If You Don’t Care’ for example, launches the album with enough fire power to evoke Skynyrd.
The opening riff salvo gives way to Mike’s self affirming lyrics; ‘I’ve got a bike to ride, fish to catch, songs that I ain’t written yet’; Girls to love, hearts to break, living like it’s all at stake’. Later he finds a sense of resolution with the line; ‘I’ve got ciggs to smoke, strings to bend, broken hearts I need to mend, work to do, songs to play, sing the words I got to say.’ The pay-off hook comes with the concluding; It’s my turn and high time I declare, I don’t give a damn if you don’t care.’
The self explanatory ‘Devil In The Bottle’ is a long time favourite, co-written with Johnny Van Zandt and Gary Rossington and features Jay on harmonies. Then there’s the Dan Baird style alt. country ‘Two Good Wheels’ with Mike on mandolin, and the band on three part harmonies. ‘Too Bad To Be True, is a stand-out rocker, with fiery solo’s, potent chord changes, great singing and a stop-time finish. The guitars also snap away on the equally boisterous and suitable titled ‘Bitin’ The Dog’, with the high in the mix guitars bolstered by Kurt Pietro’s meticulous time keeping.
The acoustic/electric guitar intro of the outlaw song ‘Judge Parker’ adds another subtle dynamic and Mike switches to acoustic for the croaky ballad Lie To Me’. ‘Haywire Riot’ has an inherent flow and the light and shade is shaped by the dexterous picking and slide parts of ‘After You’. Mike adds his best vocal on ‘None Of Me No More’, a track that cleverly contrasts the bright acoustic guitar with his brusque vocal.
The album finishes with mike in tandem with guest guitarist Derek Parnell on another Skynryd influenced song, ‘Dodging Bullets’, which doesn’t quite achieve the expected big finale. Parnell claims a co-credit with Estes and bass player Luke Bradshaw, for the excellent mix that layers sumptuous guitar tones with crystal clear vocals on an excellent album that features all that is good about the southern roots rock.
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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