Blues Bureau [Release Date: 08.10.13]
Everything in rock-blues guitarist Stoney Curtis’s world appears to be lyrically refracted through a gloomy lens, or as his album title suggests, a ‘Halo Of Dark Matter’. But it’s also a guitar album that positively bristles with psychedelic blues-rock intensity to offset his current dark psyche.
In short, ‘Halo Of Dark Matter’ has enough powerhouse riffs, big grooves, head banging boogie, deep-blues and psychedelic rocking to please his core fans and new converts alike.
Stoney has once again teamed up with producer, song writer and label boss Mike Varney and the result in a some solid song writing with the emphasis on a guitar led power trio with added colours from Michael Lardie’s keyboard parts.
Stoney’s focused intensity, fiery riffs and wah-wah tinged psychedelia is anchored in a dystopian outlook, as evidenced by the opening boogie of ‘Pure Greed’, the street life observations of ‘Grifter’, the doomed relation song and ripping guitar work of ‘I Can’t Live My Life This Way’ and the even darker ‘Deja Vuh’.
And yet there’s a counterbalance to be found in the band’s scintillating playing and a handful of brighter songs such as the unexpectedly optimistic ‘Drivin’All Night’. Two love songs ‘7 Wonders Of My World’ and the ballad ‘In The Shadows’ also offer welcome light and shade.
The ‘no gain without pain’ approach makes for an intense album full of inventive playing, as Stoney moves from the macro to the micro in finding nothing but darkness everywhere. Happily for the listener, he pours every last drop of anger, emotion and disillusionment into his playing and as a result he finds an essential connection between emotion, spontaneity and sheer technique.
The opening heavy duty boogie of ‘Pure Greed’ is a poignant observation of contemporary times: ‘How much is enough, how much do you need, at what point does your success become greed? You got so much, you never spread it around, I’m collecting your crumbs that fall on the ground.’ He thrillingly overcome the apparent contradiction between his gloomy lyrics and the sparkling band interplay, that lies at the heart of the album, to push his inspirational guitar playing to the front of the mix.
‘Halo Of Dark Matter’ is all about resolving musical tensions and finding a balance, as on the heavy retro riffs of ‘Grifter’, which are offset by solos of ripping intensity. Drummer Jeff Tortora is magnificent with his expansive drum patterns that glue the whole thing together, as Stoney takes off like a rocket.
‘Life In Odd Times’ finds Stoney jamming in Hendrix mode over exaggerated rum rolls and crisp cymbal work, as he immerses himself in some sludgy psychedelic rocking. ‘I Can’t Live My Life This Way’ provides a ripping antidote, with high energy rocking on a piece that is closer to Stoney’s earlier career. He’s still in a lyrically pessimistic mood though, but the Purple style organ accompaniment and searing guitar make it an essential catalytic track that lends itself to plenty of repeat plays.
He pauses for breath on the Faces style swagger of ‘You Don’t Know What Your Talking About’. It’s a style he repeats to great effect on the welcome optimism of ‘7 Wonders of My World’.
But just when you think the album’s focus is becoming a little brighter, he slips into ‘Déjà Vuh’, an extended, deep toned slow blues, with spoken word phrasing and dark lyrics: ‘But there’s more than meets the eye, if I hang around, one of us is gonna die’. His string bending, weeping toned intensity carries the song to a gentle fade out, on an emotionally draining blues. The track’s primal intensity reminds me of the Roy Buchanan song ‘When a guitar plays the blues’, as Stoney’s rhythm section of bassist Barry Barnes and drummer Jeff Tortora add muscular support on a killer track..
The title track is another highlight. It’s a dark, brooding piece and features Stoney’s best vocal performance on an imposing chorus: ‘I wear a halo of dark of matter and I’m sinking down, I wear a halo of dark matter and I’m losing ground’. The layered guitar sound and scorching leads are everything that makes him stand out on the contemporary rock/blues scene.
His may be shattered, disillusioned or just ‘sinking down’, but he’s doing so with some of most intense, paint stripping power trio rocking its been my pleasure to hear for years, as the perfunctory ending has you punching the air.
He opts for heavy riffs and a close to the mic vocal on the outlaw feel of ‘Hard Livin’, which includes the precious line: ‘Hard living made me the man that you love’.
‘Halo Of Dark Matter’ is an album that connects on several levels. It’s as much a hard driving rock-blues album as a lyrical themed concept album, with Hendrix influenced guitar jams. Its also is a guitar album that unveils a deeper core with each repeated play. Stoney may not be a revelatory song writer, but he draws you in with his wah-wah inflected, fire brand solos and intricate band interplay.
Given the pulverising rock-blues that gone before, the melodic, heartfelt ballad ‘In The Shadows’ is a surprise, but then even the most hell raising combo needs a sense of resolution. Hendrix may be long gone but his ghost just swept into the studio. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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