Krossborder [Release date 19.08.13]
Roadhouse have long impressed with their unique take on southern roots rock and Americana, but ‘Gods & Highways & Old Guitars’ raises the bar to another level.
As ever, the 10 songs come with Gary Boner’s noirish signature style, while the band has never sounded better, with Danny Gwylim’s stellar guitar work at the heart of everything that is great about this album. The intuitive production facilitates a mellifluous sound, full of deep guitar tones and spine tingling harmonies.
Founder member Gary Boner has often been called the David Lynch of the blues for his Gothic landscapes and dark imagery. And it’s a point obviously not lost on him, as evidenced by the well chosen Marion Post Wolcott photos which adorn the CD booklet. Her photo’s documented post depression America and they provide the perfect backdrop for Boner’s troubled narratives which are predicated by his oft stated belief that:’ misery gives you a voice’.
Martin Cook’s front cover also captures the essence of an album title full of faded dreams and disappointment. But there’s always the survivors creed, represented here by the old guitar in the boot of a beaten up dodge. The motor and cracked highway may represent the broken American dream, but there’s always a guitar to give you hope.
The symbolism seeps into tightly arranged songs, topped by a triumvirate of female vocalists. And it’s their ability to seamlessly switch from sumptuous harmonies to front line vocals that gives the album unexpected light and shade and real diversity.
Roger Hunt’s crisp percussive work and Bill Hobley subtle bass pulses unerringly match the insistent rhythms, while Gary Boner and Danny Gwylim’s twin guitar work constantly bubbles and percolates before finally exploding on the anthemic ‘Sinner’,
The catchy harmonies, chiming guitars and repeated hook of ‘Hell On Wheels’ sweeps you along and levers you into an imagery strewn trip down a tarnished American highway that climaxes with the southern rock influenced ‘Sinner’.
Roadhouse’s cross generational line-up leans on the core band’s 20 year experience and adds the freshness of the younger harmony singers. And if Boner’s lyrics have previously tended towards doom, gloom and the downright gothic, then this album is a tad more reflective, as he lets the imagery and moods do the talking for him.
‘Katrina’ for example is his take on the hurricane devastation in New Orleans. It’s a song that takes you to the kind of place you wouldn’t normally visit: ‘And the levee’s running high, The lightning’s split the sky, It’s coming down again, As the city starts to weep’.
The arrangement cleverly unravels a sharp contrast between the dark imagery and an understated musical optimism, as gently nuanced volume swells, angelic voices and an ascending guitar line suggest that even in the face of desolation, there’s always hope of redemption.
This is a multi layered album full of rich imagery, intricate rhythms, soaring harmonies, delicate guitar textures, and lush melodies that finds its equilibrium somewhere between Americana and kick ass rock blues. ‘Gods & Highways & Old Guitars’ is an album of real substance that deserves to be heard at the highest table.
‘Skinwalker’ is an adventurous, 7.25 minutes of inspired originality. It’s a two-part tale of native Indian folklore that concerns shape shifting and startling transformational abilities. The song is anchored by a Bo Diddley beat, with Gary as the first person narrator, flanked by excellent bv’s and a throbbing electro-acoustic guitar pattern. Both Gary and Danny solo exquisitely either side of Roger’s link-piece that leads the band back into the groove.
‘Gods & Highways & Old Guitars’ is worthy of its title track status. The chiming guitars and harmony vocals are reminiscent of the classic early Doobie Brothers and Mandie G. adds her best ever vocal before the guitars slip into Allman Brothers mode on an FM rock classic.
Everything hangs together as a coherent whole and flows like all the very best albums always do, taking in Americana, boogie, southern and country rock. There’s also two thematically linked New Orleans songs that contrast a city in despair (‘Katrina’), with the unison guitar driven, Storyville feel of ‘The Big Easy’. The latter is a re-recording featuring a sensuous performance by Suzie D.
The narratives draw you in like a gripping novel. The clever call and response vocals on ‘Hell On Wheels’ and ‘Can’t Say No’ bring extra intensity, while the drum led, powerhouse boogie of ‘Slow Down’ features a lead vocal from co-writer Sarah Harvey Smart. ‘Blues Motel’ is a sister track with Mandie G leading the band into early ZZ Top territory, as Danny swaps imperious rhythm guitar for an incisive solo.
The magnificent up tempo country rocker ‘Spirit Across The Water’ is transformed into an ethereal, angelic piece by peerless girlie bv’s. You’d wager that both ‘Spirit’ and the closing ‘Sinner’ are the kind of songs The Outlaws would love to have written.
‘Gods & Highways & Guitars’ is a masterpiece and a realisation of Gary Boner’s musical vision. His songs may concern the exhaustion of the human spirit, but the music is a polar opposite invitation to pull back the flat top, hit the accelerator and head for the nearest sea spray swept coastal highway. ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
Interview with Gary Boner (August 2013)
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