Album review: ELIAS T. HOTH – Damascus

Elias T. Hoth - Damascus

CD Baby [Release date 15.04.19]

Elias T. Hoth has carved out his own niche over the last decade with a catalogue of 11 southern tinged rock-a-boogie albums.  However, his last couple of albums have gradually broadened his musical outlook with his hard rocking style being tempered by well crafted ballads with occasional deeply personal lyrics.

And it’s a search for balance that lies at the heart of his new double album ‘Damascus’. He tells us that the album title is synonymous with conflict and change, but in fact ‘Damascus’ is more about compromise, as evidenced by reflective and at times introspective material which counterweights his trademark hard rocking.

The net result is a well produced, but slightly uneven album that pulls the listener into different directions, and finally resolves itself with the kind of hard rock with which he originally made his name.

‘Damascus’ goes a step further than before in its musical exploration, as Hoth mixes southern rock and boogie with shades of Americana and even country. And thanks to Glenn Phillips’s nuanced production, the pristine sonic separation glistens as part of an overall organic feel that wraps itself neatly round Hoth’s stylistic diversity.

The instrumentation is superb throughout and ushers in the kinds of different moods, tones and colours that arguably reflect Hoth’s own restless musical spirit.

If his forte is hard rocking and cruising down a highway full of recycled road imagery, then it’s a musical journey that leads him to far more personal moments and pushes his song craft to another level.

At times his vocals teeter on the brink of over-singing, or one saw-tooth growl too many, whereas on the ballads his phrasing is far more restrained, allowing him to soar and bring emotion to his top line.

He’s smart enough to top and tail an album full of musical diversity with a brace of gruff voiced rockers. He opens with the portentous rock-a-boogie of ‘I’m On The Run’ which will please all long time fans, and he rounds things off with the closing Sabbath influenced ‘Let Loose The Dogs Of War’ which feels like a resolution to everything that’s gone before.

‘Damascus’ finds Hoth overcoming turmoil to find an inner peace that he’s fearful of losing. Songs such as the acoustic, harp driven ‘These Are Better Days’- a country tinged ballad delivered over subtle brush strokes and pedal steel – and the unashamed love song ‘Hold Me Right Now’, further illustrate producer Phillips’s contribution, as he gets the best possible performance out of Hoth by surrounding him with a good arrangements and sonic splendour.

And while the album opens with a triumvirate of straight to the vein rockers, including ‘Alabama Rock & Roll’ and the recycled car imagery of ‘Chevrolet’, Hoth effectively makes a more durable impact with the self-revelatory ‘Love Is A Price You Must Pay’, on which his more restrained phrasing perfectly nuances a heartbreaking song.

‘Damascus’ doesn’t adhere to any unspoken rules regarding flow, as it explores light and shade by juxtaposing jagged edged southern boogie with soul searching balledic honesty.

It’s a song driven album that never quite makes up its mind in terms of direction, but certainly provides enough contrast and dynamic moments to carry the listener through an expansive musical journey

There’s shades of Americana on ‘Down To The River’ and Hoth is drawn to being a rock balladeer on the atmospheric ‘Begin Again’.

He’s equally good on ‘Like The First Time’, an expansive Nashville friendly duet with Nina Lanaghan, complete with a delicate strings and a beautiful guitar line on the outro.

‘Take Me Down South is a geographic restatement of his musical roots on a swampy groove that draws the listener in with deep guitar tones, a mid number tic-toc snare and husky phrasing.

By the time of the smouldering and reflective ‘We’ll Never Make Love Again’, he’s attacking a slow building song with real gusto.

The closing ‘Let Loose The Dogs Of War’ – though clumsily titled – is a defining rocker that could almost be Sabbath, while guitarist Steve Ensall adds a perfect shred to wrap things up on a tough rocking finish. ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra


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