Provogue [Release date 20.07.18]
‘The Shape Of Blues To Come’ is a conceptual titled album that pushes the blues envelope into unexpected directions
The Apocalypse Blues Revue is a head-on collision between metal (Shannon Larkin and Tony Rombola from Godsmack)and roots music on songs with an organic heart. There’s plenty of inspired jamming and bristling spontaneity, even if they are not always sure where a song is going.
Vocalist Ray “Rafer John” Cerbone’s earthy phrasing reflects a lifetime of hard living, while the locked in rhythm section of drummer Shannon Larkin and bassist Brian Carpenter provide the rhythmic context for Tony Rombola’s post SRV noodling, on a succession of defining solos and link pieces that gives the songs their shape and direction.
And shaping feelings and imagery into songs is what the band is all about. The Apocalypse Blues Revue might still be a work in progress, but that’s precisely what gives this album its spark.
There’s plenty of imaginative ideas, and moments of high energy to match their scintillating chops. They ostensibly work within a blues template but are never hemmed in by it. They explore noirsistic narratives over lumbering progressions, countered by kick ass riffs and incendiary solos, all underpinned by the Larkin’s ability to balance powered intensity with a lightness of touch.
‘Open Spaces’ provides an almost furtive opening with gently tapped cymbals, taut guitar tones before vocalist Ray “Rafer John” Cerbone make his presence felt. With a post Jim Morrison and sludgy Dead Can Dance delivery on a quiet-to-loud dynamic that underpins the album as a whole.
The band pursues its own idiosyncratic bluesy path with a broad sweep and a belligerent swagger. They often leap into the void without a safety net, but are safe in the knowledge that they have the chops to fulfil the potential that their dynamic approach gives them.
The outstanding ‘We Are The One’ levers us into an open ended musical journey with David Gilmour style guitar.
A very noirish and gothic intro leads to a significant slide break, before double vocal and slide lines fill a subtly layered sound that evokes film soundtrack.
It smoulders and bubbles up portentously before the tension is temporarily resolved by a twice delivered, majestic “We Are One” vocal line and further searing slide.
An unexpected tempo change evokes Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ on a structurally intricate take on the blues in which familiar influences are thrown into a unique gumbo.
The following ‘Hell To Pay’ is a single that perfectly balances deep vocal phrasing with an awesome toned solo.
‘The Shape Of Blues To Come’ leaves plenty of space for solos and stretching out, which the band do impressively on ‘Have You Heard’, as a voice collage opens with the thematic statement “Have you heard the news, the Apocalypse is coming, ain’t your daddy’s blues.”
Tombola’s surf twang morphs into Stevie Ray Vaughan, over a drum tight rhythm section, while a recurring dark theme is revisited on ‘To Hell With You’, which benefits from a cool sultry intro, and bluesy licks over deft percussion, as the lyrics match the imagery of the title.
Not everything works, but that’s the price you pay for a spirit of adventure and a live in the studio’ approach. The album dips slightly on ‘Nobody Rides For Free’ which in spite of some ripping guitar, cool walking bass and double time drums is something of a workaday shuffle with gruff vocals. Rombola’s SRV style chops also rescue an otherwise ponderous ‘Sincere’.
They regain their equilibrium on the extended smouldering blues of ‘What A Way To Go’ and the ethereal bookend ‘Noumenal Blues’.
The former has atmospheric intro, refined guitar tones and Cerbone’s evocative close to the mic vocal, which gives you no reason to disbelieve his animated claim that he’s: “gonna get a shot gun.”
‘The Shape Of Blues To Come’ isn’t so much a glimpse of the future, as a band that is busy transforming the staples of traditional blues into something different with a new identity. The final quiet ‘Noumenal Blues’ is a cool snapshot of their modus operandi as they successful go about their task of redefining contemporary blues. ****
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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