Sunday, February 28, 2016

Album Review: Karma to Burn - "Mountain Czar"

Maybe it’s something in the water.  Something strange is going on, because for the third time in as many years, I am completely enamored with an album that is totally (or mostly, in this case,) instrumental.  2014 saw John 5 release the excellent “Careful With That Axe,” while last year the stick-to-your-ribs riffing of Mountain of Wizard’s “Casting Rhythms and Disturbances” nearly stole the show.

They are thusly joined now by Karma to Burn, an American rock trio who joins the phalanx of musicians that conscientiously resist the antiseptic, post-produced sound of digital tone by playing purely analog music, spiritually rooted in the concepts of rock from ages gone by.

Their new EP, “Mountain Czar” comes as a jumping off point for new fans; an accessible portion that signals the band’s future direction and attempts, by title alone, to give the band an identity tied to their mountainous home state of West Virginia.  It’s not wholly unlike that phase Marvel comics went through, releasing “.1” issues all the time in an effort to give readers a chance to catch up and acclimate to what was going to happen next.  This EP actually works better at that than those comics did (all love to Marvel, where Iron Man has been a favorite since I was ten.)

Anyway, what we really have here is five cuts, largely identified by number (Sixty through Sixty-Three, though they are not sequential on the record,) and one more cut that we’ll get to in a minute, that pound through six decades of rock history and pick and choose which elements are worthy of the amalgam of rock’s soul that makes up Karma to Burn’s artistic vision.

The EP highlights with “Sixty-One,” a rolling boil of down-home rock cooking that proves rock music can be measured and planned without needing copious digital fuckery (technical term) to align all the stars into a seamless, perfect symmetric whole.  Rather, we hear a mix of rock as we knew it in the late seventies, when Deep Purple was really making waves, all layers and rich sounds with substantive bass backing.  There’s more to it than that; the band borrows equally from classic acts like the Doobie Brothers and Mountain, weaving just a little country-rock influence into the mix, but the quorum of all these styles remains the heavy-handed proto-metal that launched a thousand careers.

The fifth cut (fourth on the record, for those playing our home game,) that we said we’d get back to is “Uccidendo Un Sogno,” which, to cut right to it, is a cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Running Down a Dream” performed totally in Italian by guest vocalist Stefanie Savy.  The cover rounds out the tones of the original somewhat and eliminates all the high-end fanciful feel of the Petty version to create a cover that is both familiar (that riff is certainly recognizable in any shape,) and original – a hard feat when taking on songs that are beloved by many.  I always feel a little uncomfortable calling a cover the best cut on a record, it’s akin to telling a musician ‘I like the way you play, but not the way you compose,’ but “Uccidendo Un Sogno,” is creative and diverse and surprisingly wonderful.

Take whatever time you need to spin this EP, because it’s worth it.  There are no duds here, and a couple tracks that are pretty brilliant.  Use it to get ready for the next impending full-length release from Karma to Burn.

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