Saturday, November 16, 2019
Studebaker John & The Hawks Burn Clean on Eternity's Descent
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There are two bands that come to mind while listening to Studebaker John. Canned Heat and Treat Her Right. You can also feel the spirit of Peter Green, Hound Dog Taylor and even Jimmy Page. All of that gets poured into a pot of Chicago style goodness with a dash of psychedelic jam band rock. This album is 13 songs deep. The lead track "Same As Mine" is loaded with guitar work that smolders, burns and shreds. The sound is slightly raw, reminiscent of a live-in-studio recording.
John sings somewhere between Kim Wilson (Fab T-Birds) and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Vocally he is perfect for the blues. Studebaker John typically has a harmonica taped to a mic next to his vocal mic. He alternates between slide guitar, harp, and vocals. He does it seamlessly. "Up and Down The Line Again" is a dizzy harmonica workout. The way the harmonica is recorded gives the track a super swampy feel. "Not To Be Like You" has a ringing guitar intro which transcends into a persistent jabbing lead. The guitar playing squeezes all of the dark grungy tones out of each note. "Hold Me Down" begins with a long enjoyable guitar intro, which resurfaces, and is piercing and spontaneous.
John is a relaxed singer with swagger and confidence. He sells these songs with his delivery. Bob Halaj (bass) and Earl Howell (drums) are a fine compliment to Studebaker as he goes off on the harmonica again. "My Life" feels like it's echoing from the corner of a smokey blues bar at midnight. The guitar tone is a wall of psychedelic acid, which competes nicely with the harp solos which compete at the same level as John's guitar. The lyrics for this song provide the perfect story for these instruments.
"Ready To Rock" says fasten your seat belt, this is going to be a wild ride! An 8 minute excursion inside the crazy world of Studebaker John with all of the aforementioned musical ingredients. And the addition of more scorching guitar interludes within the context of an already jamming tune. "I Feel Like Rockin'" is less swamp and more Stones and Chuck Berry. The tones are cleaner, the vocals more straight ahead. A nice change of pace and style. "I Still Won" is a melodic cacophony of nylon strings, electric guitar, harmonica and some potent drumming. The production on this album is very front loaded, meaning the rhythm section is more window dressing than window. It creates a darker feeling even on the brighter tracks.
"Search This Life" is another snarling Keith Richards influenced rocker with more searing leads and another acid soaked harp solo. "Passed and Gone" might be what happens after "When The Levee Breaks". A bit derivative but certainly at the very least a worthy sequel, and without question the most radio friendly song of the bunch. Wait til you hear the harmonica solo! "Rock and Roll Before I Die" strays some from the smoldering blues for something with larger riffs and big drums. Definitely another great song. "Humanity" is a slow straight forward dirge where all the instruments come together to create a perfect soundtrack for a murder mystery or maybe Hallow's Eve.
"Eternity's Descent" is the final track on this deep collection. It's a trippy, jazzy instrumental ending that only underscores the creative mojo of Studebaker John and his high flying Hawks. These songs don't glisten with shiny production or gimmicks. They are down and dirty late night headphone binges. John's musical chops are tied to his experience and influences. This is blues rock that is off the beaten track. It will surprise you with it's depth, flavor and originality. This under appreciated band deserves a hearing. Studebaker John is most certainly a legend and his work here and on much of his older catalog proves it.