Blacktop Mojo – The Band
Under The Sun is the third album by Texans Blacktop Mojo. The band have been around since 2012, formed by singer Matt James and drummer Nathan Gillis. They are a five piece, made up additionally of Ryan Kiefer on lead guitar, Matt Curtis on bass, and finally Chuck Wepfer on rhythm guitar. They play a cross of classic blues inspired hard rock and grunge, or at least due to singer Matt sounding like the late great Chris Cornell (RIP) in places. In fact, his voice is incredible and worth the entrance fee alone! That is by no means disrespecting the rest of the guys, who perform superbly throughout. However, he is one of the best I have heard for a good while. Power, passion and versatility.
Under The Sun
Opening the album is “Lay It On Me“, which starts with a sweet build up. A guitar note followed by some fine drumming and a bass section that reminded me a little of a Suicidal Tendencies song (the little riff reappears near the end of the track as well)! The groove when it comes in is a belter. Then the voice! This is exactly what they said they do, classic rock mixed with heavier grunge (especially Soundgarden, due to his voice). It is great muscular sounding heavy rock.
“Set It Free” sound-wise could have come off a Soundgarden album, especially on the chorus where Matt J smashes all the notes on a sliding scale. It isn’t a complete copy of a song, but has so many of the elements that made that band what they were.
The whole album is of such a standard that you can drop in on any song and be impressed. Other tracks and moments that grabbed my attention during the album include the take down half way through “Come Get Your Coat“. There are other great parts. The guitar solos near the end and some of the notes being sung on “Keep” had me drawing breath. There are sections on “Keep” that have a riff ala early Black Sabbath,where bassist Matt C plays out his Geezer Butler fantasies. The groovy bit halfway through, leading to the solos, is a complete foot stomper.
There were a couple of tracks that made me think of the band Live. These are “It Won’t Last” and “Can’t Sleep”, where he sings with inflections similar to Ed Kowalczyk. The two tunes have plenty of emotion and are quite bluesy, with “It Won’t Last” having some organ being played adding to the mix. The guitar soloing on this is terrific, more exploration going on.
“Can’t Sleep” has a vibe about it, slightly haunting with the bass being quite prominent in parts and possibly the best chorus on the album. It is possibly my favourite track on the album, due to the moodiness of the verses being the polar opposite of the melody of the chorus. If we had decent radio in the UK, this could be massive hit!
“The Lashing (Ghost)” keeps it atmospheric. Intense, moody and rather captivating. Again, the bass is to the fore and it is definitely very bluesy as a piece. The vocal over the gentle refrain shows Matt J’s softer side as well as his versatility. Everything doesn’t have to be done on top range – that sensitivity and emotion is important too.
“The Void” has moments of gentle guitar work on the verses and electric on choruses, leading to a more frenzied guitar solo at the end. Again, there are some nice bass touches on show.
The album finishes with the title track “Under The Sun” which is slightly funky. The song is a mix of Soundgarden along with (perhaps) later Deep Purple. There is also a Southern vibe going on as well. It is a melting pot of styles mixed together rather impressively.
This is an excellent old school rock album, played by musicians who all contribute to the sound. Blacktop Mojo is a band that gives the bassist room to be properly heard. This is quite right, as he is so impressive. The singer has real range and passion. I admit that I have mentioned a particular band quite a bit in this review, but Blacktop Mojo do have that sound and a singer that could do real justice to anything Chris Cornell sang. I cannot give any higher compliment!
This band will be huge (surely, they have to be) and I, for one, cannot wait to see them tear up a stage near me.
Under The Sun is released on Friday 13 September.