Riotous Brothers [Release date 26.02.14]
‘The Tree’ is the Riotous Brothers third album and it’s a notable step forward for the Mash Sonnet/Paul Long songwriting partnership. The duo contributes 7 co-writes and 3 solo efforts that combine good melodies with thoughtful lyrics and live in the studio interplay.
‘The Tree’ is a lyric driven album on which they thoughtfully add a meaningful song line under each title, giving us pause to think about the concept of the album title. It’s a blues based album full of musical diversity and coherent sequencing which could only be bettered by tighter arrangements and a polished production.
Inevitably, Mash Sonnet’s expressive vocals lie at the heart of the songs, as he moves from shared vocals to being a front line blues singer, an animated rocker and ultimately an intimate confidante on the closing ‘I Wanna Know’.
The album opens with ‘Now More Than Ever’, a catchy slice of Americana with strong bv’s, which is reminiscent of Brinsley Schwarz. It’s one of the best songs on the album and Mash Sonnet’s chiming guitar sounds like the late John Cipollina.
The loose feel of the track is compounded by some studio chatter at the conclusion of a song that benefits from a pregnant pause and coda. The stop-time ‘Honey Not Vinegar’ is in the same vein, but has a Keith Richard style opening, a good hook, decent harmonies and a funky electric piano solo.
‘Me And You’ opens with a great line: ‘Can’t play it like a Ray Charles, can’t howl like a Wolf, my fingers want to fly like a Joe, I got to find my own truth’. A big melodic sweep carries the song to the conclusion that: ‘I got to sing my own blues’. And they do just that, with the help of a lyrical harp solo from Paul Jones, on one of the best produced tracks on the album.
Not everything works quite as well though. ‘Second Time Around’ for example, aspires to being a cool groove with suitable delicate guitar touches and cool organ.
It percolates nicely, rooted by some deep bass notes and wah-wah colouring, but fails too overcome some workman phrasing that fails to make an essential connection with the lyrical meaning.
In sharp contrast to the above, Mash adds a more angst ridden approach on the slow blues ‘Fever’, a tale of: ‘a man loving woman’. His spiky guitar solo is a natural extension of his vocal, as he racks up the tension in the break-down, before his vocal and piercing notes coalesce on the resolution. It’s a track that grows on you, much like the album as a whole.
‘Something’s Got To Change’ is both outstanding and arguably the best produced effort on the album. Paul Long employs a warm, close to the mic vocal on an atmospheric track full of shimmering notes, keyboard fills and subtle harmonies.
The melodic ‘Cigarettes’ comes from the same template as the opening track and is equally good, albeit with a darker narrative, a great hook and a gospel resolution that gives the album a notable lift.
The following blues ballad ‘Memory Of Our Love’ almost does the opposite. Despite Mat Lake’s nuanced bass notes, the lyrics fail to convey the intended emotion on a track that tries too hard to be tasteful.
But The Riotous Brothers are nothing if not adventurous and Dirk Maggs’s opening drum pattern on ‘Proving Too Hard’ gives way to an ambitious proggy arrangement full of sharp dynamics, a booming vocal and a sparkling jammed out mid-section.
You can imagine this being a worthy climax to their live set, but not the album, which is nicely rounded off by ‘I Wanna Know’. Mash eclipses everything that he’s sung before with a piece of gut wrenching emotion.
‘The Tree’ showcases a promising songwriting partnership in the making and a confident band who revel in smoky grooves and sparkling solos. Their music is rooted in the blues, but never constricted by it and as a result ‘The Tree’ branches out to a potentially wider audience. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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