Album review: MOLLY HATCHET – Battleground

MOLLY HATCHETT - Battleground

SPV/Steamhammer [Release date 29.11.19]

Formed in the early 70s by guitarists Steve Holland and Dave Hlubek, Molly Hatchet released their eponymous debut on Epic in 1978, and were at the forefront of the second wave of Southern Rock. Inspired by the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, they were heavier and bluesier than many. A string of strong albums (including ‘Flirtin’ With Disaster’, illustrated by Frank Frazetta), and possibly the greatest live album of all time (‘Double Trouble Live’), the band effectively disbanded in 1990, and continued under a different guise under the leadership of guitarist Bobby Ingram, who had acquired/bought the band’s name and trademark.

While Ingram has proven himself a solid rhythm guitarist (just listen to original vocalist Danny Joe Brown’s solo album), that does not necessarily translate into lead guitar ability, nor should it allow an ego to bodge a triple guitar line on one, something even Jeff Beck wouldn’t dare attempt. This is something that has dogged the Molly Hatchet brand ever since. There has been many a talented musician pass through the recent ranks; pianist John Galvin for one (and still in the band), and guitarists Bryan Bassett and (a returning) Hlubek, all of whom have eclipsed Ingram.

A horrible history? Yes. As is the cover to the album, which looks like an educational history text book aimed at 8-12 year olds. Frank Frazetta it is not.

OK, so we’re not to a good start. Then we press play.

And for note, alongside Ingram are long time drummer and bassist Shawn Beamer, longer time pianist John Galvin and new vocalist Jimmy Elkins.

The opening two tracks Bounty Hunter and Whiskey Man are bona fide classics. Here, though, there’s a distinct lack of finesse, and is that a second guitar line I hear? Between that and the way the vocals are mixed, questions are already being asked of how much post production work was required to bolster the recording. I’d stake my reputation on it. Just check out recent youtube clips to get a more honest representation of the current band.

As of the band’s post 1990 tracks; Why Won’t You Take Me Home in on the sludgy side of a half decent boogie, where the piano if anything stands out. Other new tracks stand out purely because they were written by and around the current set-up, albeit with a guitar short. Sadly no Tantanka, one of the few latter day songs to hold its own enough for me to enjoy.

Of interest to many would (under normal circumstances) be Danny Joe Brown’s song On The Edge Of Sundown, a track upon which Galvin and Ingram both originally appeared. We’re off to a good start with the piano intro, but verse one is sung acoustically, and before the band come in. Again the piano solo stands up, but that is it. That really is it. The song finishes after the second verse, no lead break, no nothing. The guitar work to this point was bad enough, the arrangement horrible, and the song cut in half; this will have the average Molly Hatchet fan with half a brain squealing in both pain and disbelief. Brown will be turning in his grave faster than a pair of Indy500 rear wheels.

Much the same can be said of the classic Fall Of The Peacemakers, where some less than brilliant guitar work drowns out the piano. This song demands three guitars to be played properly, the interplay, and the fact it turned out so well on Double Trouble Live with two guitars a testament to the original era band. You can hear Beamer Lindsey doing their best, there is some talent there, but the set-up and guitarist are simply just not up to it. Horrible.

If you were to listen to this blind, some tracks are more passable than others, others even blind are immediately binnable. A half decent cover band, as more often than not the best bits (most of which are Galvin’s) are lost in either the mix or the arrangement. A couple of tracks that require complex guitar interplay or feature a lot of slide, which is attempted (occasionally admirably), there’s no rhythm guitar to back up the sound. Elsewhere the bass plays the rhythm guitar line which then thins the sound in its own way. The new vocalist tries hard, sometimes too hard, to mimic Danny Joe Brown or Jimmy Farrar, but without Brown’s natural gravel or Farrar’s bluesy power, they sound throaty in a kind of forced way.

If you knew it was Molly Hatchet, you’d realise that over half of this album should not have been committed to record. Ever. Under any circumstances. 1985’s Double Trouble Live set a new standard in live albums; when you have The Agora Ballrooms CD and the 1980 never released but heavily bootlegged live recordings you have a reputation that is solid gold. A reputation that is being raped and pillaged on stage by the current band.

With the band’s more recent material holding more weight than the half assed covers, which are often so far removed from Molly Hatchet or from Southern Rock in general, this record is (sadly) proof that the current Molly Hatchet should change their name and go do their own thing in their own right. Boogie No More indeed. *

Review by Joe Geesin

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