- John The Conqueror
- The Good Life
Alive Naturalsound Records
Philly-based power trio John The Conqueror sounded way better than they deserved to on their 2012 self-titled debut. The biggest risk of coming out of the hole that strong was a classic one: how the hell do you follow that up?
One of the best things that drummer Michael Gardner, bassist Ryan Lynn and guitarist/vocalist Pierre Moore had going for them on John The Conqueror was the fact that they knew who they were. Moore produced the band’s debut, in fact – just as he has the brand-new The Good Life. It’s rare that a band has enough perspective and understanding of themselves to pull that off successfully early on; talent can sometimes act as blinders.
Not so with John The Conqueror: they’re confident enough as players to explore the potential of the trio setting without over-producing the tracks. There’s the occasional amp hum, bit of reverb thunder, or moan of feedback on The Good Life – and trimming it would’ve taken some of the flavor and life out of the music. The sole guest on the album is Ryan Lynn’s cousin Steve Lynn, who sits in on keys for a couple of songs.
Moore’s writing (and the band’s playing) is fueled by real life, filtered through bluesmen souls and rock ‘n’ roll hearts. It’s often not a pretty picture – but neither is life, sometimes. You know Moore’s either been there or knows who was there when he’s writing about a party taking a bad turn when someone hauls out a pistol (“Mississippi Drinkin’”) or a relationship that’s too hard to stay in and too hard to do without (“You Don’t Know”).
John The Conqueror’s songs are always firmly founded in the groove – and Gardner and Lynn are masters of such. Gardner never overplays, but he is as unshakeable as he is tasteful. (Listen, for example, to his cymbal work on “Road To Bayport” – when he lets loose it’s the perfect punctuation to what’s going down with Moore in the moment.) Dig Ryan Lynn’s bass holding down the fort during the opening verse of “What Am I Gonna Do” – all cool and funky and right on. Rather than making the mistake that trio members sometimes do – trying to make up for the three-piece lineup by overplaying – Gardner and Lynn know how to work the holes in the sound and find dynamics in absence and return. At times they provide the wallop and rumble for Moore’s guitar work to rumble over; at other times, they drop out to allow him to drive a point home with a blistering run – sealing the deal with a slamming re-entry.
Moore’s vocals conjure up memories of the masters without mimicking any of them; and his guitar playing style is totally his own, easily combining scary-ass blasts of blistering licks with growling riffs or passages of near-jazzbo coolness. Moore penned ten of the album’s tracks; the band turns Randy Newman’s “Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield” into what could’ve been one of those classic raw and nasty collaborations between R.L. Burnside and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
John The Conqueror is still a relatively young band, but they sure as hell don’t sound like it. Don’t change the recipe, men: just let it grow as it wants to. This is good shit.
Brian Robbins lets his amp hum over at www.brian-robbins.com.