Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Album Review: The Black Marbles - Moving Mountains

Here's the thing about classic rock; it isn't classic because of the old amps, vinyl records, and recording on tape. Those were limitations of the time, which gave the music that particular sound. What really made classic rock stand the test of time are the songs. Whether we're talking about Led Zeppelin, Cream, or any of the others, we only remember the best of the best, and not the countless other bands that used the same gear and studios, but whose music was mediocre at best. Today, we hear tons of bands that go for that vintage aesthetic, but so few of them understand that it's songwriting above all else that fuels the music. Copying amp settings isn't any good if your music is boring. 'Vintage' is a description, not praise in an of itself.

This is a lesson well heeded by The Black Marbles on this new album. They are indeed a throwback to the old days of rock and roll, but they are not devoted to recreating something they don't truly understand. The sonics are rooted in the past, but there's enough modern heft to the production to make it clear this is not a nostalgia trip. They are seriously focused on making new classic rock, if that isn't a contradiction.

"Little Sun" opens the record, and illustrates this point. The guitars have that classic distortion, but the recording is as clear and punchy as anything modern. The guitar playing centers on a solid groove, but there are runs flowing off of that which give texture to the song in a way many bands wouldn't appreciate. Cap it off with a wailing vocal performance, and what you get is a product that hits all the right marks.

As you might expect, there are hints of other bands hiding in The Black Marbles sound. "Starlight" opens with a guitar line that sounds like it could have come straight off Graveyard's "Hisingen Blues", while Marica Svensson's vocals are evocative of Blues Pills' Elin Larsson. In both of those cases, the comparisons are high praise, as they are among the very best at what they do. This is a far cry from those other throwback rock bands that have squealing, high-pitched men who sound incredibly weak scraping the height of their range. The Black Marbles stay in the middle of the power band, which is why they can kick ass.

I also appreciate that they aren't afraid to throw a few curves at us. "Stain My Eyes" is a great example of this, as the song turns on its head when the chorus comes along, shifting from a blistering rocker into a searing slow blues. Those little details of not following the conventional rules make this sound like true classic rock, because it hearkens back to the time when those rules hadn't been firmly etched in stone. This record sounds like a band writing where the song takes them, rather than where they want the song to go, which is exactly what you're supposed to do as a writer.

We also get "Fallen", an acoustic blues number that slowly builds fire, while also being one of the rare tracks of that style to feature a grand melody. Marica is the band's best asset, as she anchors these songs with solid melody lines on every track, turning these songs into the kind of tracks that can easily be sung along with, making them memorable. I went back and listened to some of what the band did on their first album, and her presence makes all the difference in the world. The band has always had the swagger of the 70s and plenty of guitar chops, but she is what has allowed the songs to fall into place. Some people know how to sell a hook, and she's one of them.

There's only one real complaint I can lodge against the record, and that's the fact it only runs thirty-two minutes. Short records are fine when they're of high quality, and this one certainly is, but I can't help but have the selfish desire for one more track thrown in for good measure.

That's but a minor point. The main takeaway here is that The Black Marbles have done something really good with "Moving Mountains". They have embraced the best parts of classic rock, and turned out a record that succeeds on every level. Some music is timeless, and given the way The Black Marbles straddle the past and the present, this could very well fall into that category. "Moving Mountains" is a late-in-the-year gem of a record, and one any fan of classic or vintage rock needs to check out. You won't be disappointed.

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