Album review: MICHAEL KATON – Hard On! (The Boogie)

MICHAEL KATON – Hard On! (The Boogie)

Mystic [Release date 31.03.14]

Michael Katon’s back with a hard hitting album full of boogie, blues and lashing of guitar. In fact he’s never really been away, except that his last few albums have been digital download only, so ‘Hard On! The Boogie’ is a welcome return to a CD, and doesn’t disappoint.

There’s plenty of his trademark growling vocals, an array of big guitar tones and best of all, some incendiary guitar playing that transforms even the most plodding of songs (and there are many of those) into something fiery.

The unreconstructed ‘Hard On! (The Boogie)’ focuses on his guitar parts which vary from grungy distortion to deep tonal depth, piercing slide and a conversational style of playing that frequently provides a retort to his own vocal line.

‘Hard On!(The Boogie)’ is more of a lo-fi, raw to the bone affair than his early career albums. It’s shot through with an essential intensity and the feeling that he’s putting everything into his licks and tone, drawing on the subtle dynamics of ‘Hold On Memphis’ to contrast his ready growl with a close to the mic delivery that draws you in.

The opening title track includes a line that could be his mission statement: “I’m hard on the boogie just like a crazy man, tearing it up that’s just the way I am.”  And he rips into some dirt toned boogie over a whip crack rhythm section (with Erwin Gielen’s snare way up in the mix), on an album topped and tailed by a laid back shuffle boogie coda of the title track.

In between he indulges himself in what he does best, with the low down wah-wah inflected ‘Watermelon And Black Coffee’, an impossibly heavy piece full of space and big tones. Hell, he digs so deep for his groove that he sounds like he’s down a coal mine. His sculpts industrial sounding notes and mixes searing slide with unrelenting sustained wailing notes to evoke a knife through watermelon. You get the idea!

It’s back to the blues with the drum tight shuffle of ‘Check Out The Blues’, full of huge tone colours and a ripping intensity that defines his style. He rocks out frenetically on ‘Gas Money’ on a song possibly inspired by the high cost of touring and tips his hat to Jimi Hendrix on ‘Hey Jimi We Need Ya’.

He cleverly references ‘Red House’, ‘Crosstown Traffic’ and ‘Purple Haze’, while poetically describing Jimi as being on his way to: “Destination the outskirts of infinity,” as Katon himself soars into the stars with some Hendrix inspired playing.

And that brings us to ‘Bring Me My Morphine’, the anchor track of the album, with its long luscious guitar lines and close to the mic vocal on a heavy slow blues. His intensive riffs rack up the tension before the drop-down, only to go again and finish on a long descending sliding note.

The distorted volume and raucous chant of ‘Boogie From Hell!’ re-asserts his musical and geographic credentials and he revisits ‘Whiskey Hill’ with a big drum pattern and chiming guitars before leaning into the guitar slinger narrative of ‘The Ballad Of Johnny Goodheart’.

There’s a passing nod to the album’s pacing on the slow fuse, F.P.White bass driven groove of ‘Hold On Memphis’, on which Michael lyrically evokes the south: “I can smell the cornbread cooking, yeah I can almost taste that barbecue.” Warming to his theme, he proclaims: “Well I was born a Yankee, but I got grits grinding through my blood, and I can’t wait to stick my toes in that Memphis mud.”

He answers each refrain with an extravagant slide line, and finishes with an urgent vocal over a muscular solo that fades too quickly. It’s only when you realise that he’s already clocked up 7 minutes on the song that you realise just how immersed you are.

‘Younger Man’ is a slice of restless boogie with the theme that what goes round comes round and he finishes with the Canned Heat influenced, reprise of the title track, ’Hard On!(The Boogie) Part 2’.

Michael Katon may have been out of circulation for a few years, but his flame still burns bright on an album full of the kind of unreconstructed blues-rock his loyal fans love. It’s good to have him back on CD.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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