It’s about high time that one of the basic axioms of the musical world had an axe buried in it, and allow us the privilege of being the ones to do the initial damage. There is a lingering concept in all facets of music that any so-called ‘side-project’ band of any given musicians can’t be taken nearly as seriously as their primary moneymaker, and that the artist him- or herself can’t be as serious about their second family, to turn a phrase.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. While it is often the case that side projects aren’t as fan-friendly or critically successful as established bands, that’s as often as not a product of the central musician (or musician) trying out a fresh idea, testing a passion to see if it has wings. Side projects, if they can even be called that appropriately, are places of experimentation and should be respected in their own right.
Enter The Apocalypse Blues Revue, founded by Shannon Larkin and Tony Rombola, themselves the respective drummer and guitar player from that household name of modern metal, Godsmack. That name only comes into play as a marketing tool for this new band; any comparison of TABR and Godsmack, or worse yet, any judgement of TABR because of Godsmack, is foolhardy.
So, what do we have here? This self-titled debut is practically everything the name suggests – dark blues that borrow only a little from rock and sound more akin to the origin of the genre down in the delta. This is blues rock that hinges on that first descriptor more than any other, the kind of music we’ve all heard a million times in an action movie’s saloon fight scene, particularly if it involves Kurt Russell. Bass players the world over dream about playing in a band like this, just to be able to lay down some solid blues riffs with little fanfare or frills.
Now, I get it. You’re saying ‘D, so far you’ve successfully described Monster Truck.’ Not at all. TABR is a straight-up, no-chaser blues record, calling to mind the halcyon days of Lead Belly and John Lee Hooker, though there’s a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughn in there too, which is a solid credit o Rombola’s playing style.
More on that in a minute. A major piece of the puzzle here is the vocal stylings of Rafer John, who mixes in the vocal personality of Jim Morrison, Neil Fallon, Jack Bruce and just a little David Allan Coe. His voice is ideally suited for this kind of music, fleshing out the corners and turning what began as just a jam session into a full-bodied album.
Anyway, Rombola. His sense of the natural oscillation of blues riffing, as we hear both in the excellent “Devil Plays a Strat” and “The Tower.” Riffs and proper exhibition in the blues are not based on speed or precision so much as they are on placement and feel, both of which Rombola has an excellent feel for. We see this again and again in the album, perhaps coming to a head for the rollicking solo that bridges the halves of “Crossed Over.” This kind of guitar artistry is worth hearing, and this is why side projects have merit, as Rombola deserves a chance to show the world this skill set.
Worth noting – TABR seems equally well equipped to be listened to either as the background music for your home poker game, or in single snippets for your blues fix. Either way, you’re getting value out of the product, but it may not be an album where you have to hear certain cuts or sections as certain times.
The Apocalypse Blues Revue is much better constructed and executed than their goofball blues contemporaries like Honky. That doesn’t mean that this band has no goofball DNA, just that it keeps its goofball contained and dosed out appropriately. Now we’ll stop saying ‘goofball.’ This is a strong debut record that even if there is never a follow up, will leave a mark both on the new millenniums blues rock repertoire and on side projects around the globe.