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Published: 2013/09/28
by Brian Robbins

GravelRoad
The Bloody Scalp Of Burt Merlin

Knick Knack Records

On their latest release – The Bloody Scalp Of Burt Merlin (don’t be scared to touch the cover) – Seattle’s GravelRoad continues to do all the stuff they do so well while adding new textures and depth to the mix. Bloody Scalp finds drummer Martin Reinsel, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Zillioux, and doer-of-what-needs-doin’ Jon Kirby Newman (guitar, bass, drums, vox) offering ZZ Top-style grease and Jon Spencer-style gristle, boiled up in a battered #3 galvanized washtub full of Delta hoodoo and Hendrixian vapors.

Consider the opener “The Run”, which comes barrel-assing out of the speakers with a killer one-chord groove foundation that might’ve been something John Lee Hooker would’ve laid down while playing a roadhouse in Electric Ladyland. Rather than breaking the tension, the chorus change-ups serve to ratchet up the darkness – and the Bo Diddleyness of the final wind-up before the outro is fair warning: either shake your butt or get out of the way, cuz GravelRoad’s a’comin’.

“Cocaine Baby” combines blistering tattered-speaker geetar skwonk and a growled-out vocal with little bits of psychedelic seasonings (the jury’s still out on whether the laugh at the very end is reassuring or the album’s most frightening moment); somewhere Slim Harpo’s ghost is grinning and stomping his feet to “Death Bed Blues”; “Maybe The Wind” is saturated with fine slide guitar and multi-purpose groove; and “Monkey With A Wig” should be required listening when it comes to the art of getting as nasty as nasty gets in one minute and fifty-one seconds.

But wait – what do you call the high-speed romp of “Med Pass!” – punk blues? (Dig the locomotive bass of guest Joe Johnson, who also adds low-end womp to “Cocaine Baby”.) Or how about “Last Night’s Dream”, which blends GravelRoad’s natural raunch with a Canned Heat-flavored sweetness? (Talking about ghosts: Bob “The Bear” Hite would’ve loved these crazy bastards.) And what’s the deal with “Space”, a nearly-eight-minute epic that morphs visions of tumbleweeds blowing across post-apocalyptic prairies with pockets of churning, twisted, rusty metal? Try to slap a label on that and make it stick, my friend.

The key to it all may lie in the album closer, “Bring Me Back”: for all the darkness; for all the explosions of tie-dyed light; for all the extra planets, three-horned devils, gris-gris, black cat bones, and midnights at the crossroads that exist in GravelRoad’s world, they really are just three good ol’ boys who wanna play the blues. Guest buddy Paul Hutzler’s pedal steel brings a little bit of sweetness to “Bring Me Back”, while Zillioux’ and Newman’s guitars hang back with just enough teeth showing so you won’t forget their presence. The result might put you in mind of The Black Crowes at their rootsiest; the fact of the matter is, it’s simply GravelRoad being GravelRoad.

Which is a damn fine thang.

*****

Brian Robbins shows his teeth (and brushes them regularly) over at www.brian-robbins.com

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