Take the considerable talents of The Atomic Road Kings’ and Walter Trout’s harmonica man, the voice and guitar skills of a 44s’ member; add in guests of equal quality like guitar wizard Kid Ramos, the sweet vocals of Deb Ryder and a bunch of skilful musicians backing them up and you get a blues band laden with potential. Eric Von Herzen is the harp maestro and Johnny Main the guitar player extraordinaire…together, using their previous band names, have joined together as The Atomic 44’s (that’s their apostrophe, not mine) to deliver nine original tracks in, according to the press release, the Americana/roots vein. An oft used phrase that doesn’t always define the music as it covers so much…for me, this is a blues album with lashings of rock where the duo have taken the traditional tropes and infused them with up to date lyrical and musical twists. They all immediately feel warm and familiar even though they’re new and very original.
The opener, The Boogeyman, for instance, opens with tasty guitar phrasing before the riff begins in a very John Lee Hooker way…who cares when a track is this good? The harp and guitar are welded together and Johnny’s vocals are everything you’d expect from a blues singer. The guitar centrepiece is superb and even better for leaving in the (very) slight mistake; the harp solo is similar quality as we get a tuneful, measured performance that isn’t overblown.
Barbwire and Fences follows a similar but different template with more great guitar and harp, underpinned by some excellent bass and drums. Worthy of note is the semi-humorous lyrics…a serious message with great couplets and rhymes; ‘toast’ and Holy ghost’ being just one. The guitar solo is superb too as it plays cleverly with the melody and fits in some neat bends and runs.
Fade to Black is blues-rock bliss: another familiarly new riff with every member of the band meshing brilliantly and the harp and guitars again shining through, with solos that weave a perfectly apt tapestry between the verses…this reminds me, in an obscure way, of Three Dog Night; if they were bluesier, heavier and rockier! Olivia stays in the blues-rock mode but shifts a little geographically as it summons a Chicago feel with barrelling piano over the harp and riff. The irresistible blues lilt, overlaid by another fine harp solo that is one of the more original I’ve heard in a while.
Candy Man has a bounce to it too and may seem a little cliched at first, soon expands into a bang up to date 50s song of quality. More great harp soloing and a piano solo that is imaginative and fitting. Ol’ Mexico had me in a few bars; tasty harp, brilliant riff and such a neat bassline…then the guitar solo lifted it still higher and into favourite status. Lyin’ Still is classic blues with the harp laying down the basic riff and the guitars exclaiming around it…and it keeps getting better as a bend laden guitar solo is pure genius; the electric piano is perfection but needs close listening to pick it up.
Saints and Sinners is lovely, dirty, swirling blues with more clever harp/guitar interplay and Deb Ryder adding liquidity to the chorus before the guitar solo, which is more uplifting than the lyrics may suggest, just isn’t long enough. Closing the album with My ’49 is a great, upbeat song about a car being dug up and resurrected…Deb again brings depth to the chorus and the slide guitar, hidden away in the mix, is a delight; as is the picked solo and harp contribution.
This is a great solid album of quality electric blues that is full of retrospective pointers that still sound fresh, new and original especially in the hands of such a skilled set of musicians.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful blues-rock album that evokes memories as it pays tribute to the past in an ingenious way with these nine new songs.
1. The Boogeyman
2. Barbwire and Fences
3. Fade to Black
5. Candy Man
6. Ol’ Mexico
7. Lyin’ Still
8. Saints and Sinners
9. My ’49
Johnny Main: Guitar and lead vocals
Eric Von Herzen; Harmonica
Bill Stuve: Bass
Gary Ferguson: Drums
Deb Ryder: Background vocals
Taryn Donath: Keyboards
Kid Ramos: Guitar
Written and produced by Johnny Main and Eric Von Herzen at Pot O’ Gold Studios, California.
(iTunes in its alphabetic fashion, gave me some more of Eric’s playing as The Atomic Road Kings’ song, I’ve Got The Time slid from the speakers; their 2018 album, Clean Up The Blood is the source. We then moved into another atomic age of the Rooster variety with a lesser-known rocker called Rebel Without A Clause…they were much more than just Devil’s Answer.)