Purple Pyramid [Release date 15.09.17]
OK. Let’s summarise things at the outset. Otis’ ‘Eyes Of The Sun’ is a stonking album. It rocks hard, has a soulful sensibility with blues coursing through its veins and smokes from beginning to end, like the very best Southern rock albums used to.
Kentucky Southern rockers Otis are championed by executive producer and former Johnny Winter guitarist/producer Paul Nelson, who obviously knows a kick ass band when he hears one.
But, Otis aren’t just any band, for one thing they frequently construct their musical vision on the back of a potent rhythm track. In bassist John Seeley and a lyrical drummer Andrew Gilpin they have a deluxe rhythm section that stokes the fire and acts as a perpetual catalyst to the twin guitar talents of Boone Froggett (who doubles as vocalist) and Steve Jewell.
It’s hard to believe that ‘Eyes Of the Sun’ is only their second album, as the deep grooves, sumptuous tones and insistent rhythms are the stuff of a lifetime on the road.
They’ve already carved their own little piece of history by opening the 2016 Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association Festival. And while the Allman’s feel is a significant undercurrent to their music, it never dominates their material which is as fresh and original as it is intense.
Where Otis really score is that they have the material to match their musical chops. They also have that rare ability to evoke the giants of their genre without becoming dependent on them.
Listen for example to The Allman Brothers influenced ‘Change’, and in particular the Dickey Betts style slide and the uplifting dual guitar break. Then there’s also the stoccatto rhythm of the outstanding ‘Blind Hawg’ which could be Skynyrd.
Early Lynyrd Skynyrd also comes to mind in the percussive feel of ‘Home’, on which they groove and jam before a return to the ‘Coming Home’ refrain, as drummer Gilpin abandons his previous intricate approach for pure Bonham!
Everything coalesces beautifully on the booming title track which effectively sets a marker against which their contemporaries will be judged, because Otis have what it takes in abundance.
Aside from the afore mentioned rhythm tracks, the band re-invigorates a Southern rock genre all too often mired in over familiar clichés and false country tinged sentiment.
There’s absolutely no slack here, as each track jumps out the trap like a rabbit. The arrangements are tight, the riffs are rock hard, and the band’s intensity is such that many of the songs feel like they are at bursting point.
It’s rare for a band to hit so hard, and maintain the energy levels and the dynamics needed to keep the music interesting. Each track is full of contrasting sonic detail and producer David Barrick does a great job in nailing the incendiary solos as part of an imposing wall of sound.
‘Shake You’ is powered by a memorable riff over another killer rhythm track and lashing of big toned sparring. It’s subtly offset by an unexpected layered Hammond from Eddie Stone, as the percussion almost takes the piece into a Latino direction. The band jams joyously with harmony guitars on a track that sounds as if they’ve waited years to play it.
This stand-out track also makes a mockery of the live and studio divide. Generally speaking, the intoxicating mix of hard driving rhythms, effortless harmonies and huge guitars make light of the fact they are an old school band who play without a safety net. The band nails what they doubtlessly do so well on the gig circuit.
And if ‘Shake You’ is an essential slice of smoking Southern rock of the highest order, then the balledic ‘Turn To Stone’ is the closest they get to the late Gregg Allman’s soulful southern rock, albeit Boone Froggett almost has to sing out of his range to nail the piece.
They also boogie hard on ‘Washed My Hands’, and only pause for breath on the suitably titled ‘Relief In C’. The Danny Williams mandolin-led meditative instrumental gives the album a welcome rootsy change of direction.
Then there’s the lovely nuanced drone of ‘Chasing The Sun’ which evokes Neil Young right down to lovely distorted grunge guitar, before they once again light the fuse to grind out the licks and head for the stars.
Otis play hard rocking, organic and honest music. You can take an educated guess at the origin’s of the band’s name, as their music is shot through with deep soul, and played with real passion, intensity and spark. It also means that even the very occasional blip in their focus is barely noticeable.
They finish on the slow building anthem ‘Let Your Love Shine Down’, which shows another different side of the band and is very much an archetypal album closer.
In an era where references to antecedent musical genres are often an excuse for a lack of material, Otis deliver the goods.
Perhaps only the giant musical figure of Warren Haynes has come this close to making Southern rock relevant again.
Go out your way to check out this album, you won’t be disappointed. **** ½
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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