I first encountered The Graveltones back in April supporting Rival Sons and I was mightily impressed by their raucous glammed up blues. They kicked up a real storm onstage, all the more remarkable when one considers that they are but two, singer/guitarist Jimmy O, and bearded Bonham channelling drummer Mikey Sorbello.
I bought their EP on the strength of the that performance and although enjoyable, it lacked the pure kaboom of the live experience. Consequently I approached 'Don't Wait Down', their debut LP with mixed feelings. Would it be the EP writ large, or hope upon hope, a recording that captured the wit, grittiness and power of The Graveltones live experience?
After living with 'Don't Wait Down' for a few weeks, I can say I need not have had any doubts; it's an excellent album, that has all the humour and excitement of a Graveltones live show, plus so much more.
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When the album blasts off with 'Bang Bang' it's clear that all the enthusiasm, dynamics, and sheer volume of the live experience has been successfully transferred to tape, or whatever albums are recorded on these days. This song is pure rock and roll and has the bands hallmarks of big drums, guitars turned up to 11, passionately charismatic vocals, and a riff that will blow your speakers apart.
Next up is the brilliantly optimistic 'Forget About The Trouble', a quirky number, with an infectiou chorus. In common with most the tracks here, The Graveltones sound in enhanced by some extra instrumentation, in this case a glorious organ riff, which if not quite garage rock definitely lends the song a certain car-portish air.
Third song 'Dying On Your Feet' is a great example of the diverse influences that the band mix together to crate their on original sound. In the intro Jimmy comes over like a 70-year-old bluesman, before the song changes tack and explodes with electric power. An insistent piano figure gnaws away in the background, whilst distorted cranked up guitars churn out the evil cousin to the 'Day Tripper' riff. Above this sonic maelstrom Jimmy howls, roars and moans out the words like a tortured soul who has done a deal with the Devil at the crossroads.
The Graveltones are not all about 100mph dirty glam rock, and there are some magnificent slower numbers here too. 'Crime To Be Talking' is a slithery, sparse slow blues, with some deliciously creepy piano, and a fantastic performance by guest singer Lauren Tate. She duets superbly with Jimmy in such a way that brings to mind a bourbon fuelled Donny and Marie Osmond!
'I Am A Liar' brings out the lyrical side of the band. A beautiful ballad, led by some woozy saloon bar piano, this song that late Dylan classic 'To Feel My Love' would sound like if Shane MacGowan had got his hands on it, rather than Adele.
The Dylan references continue with a version of the old Jesse Fuller song 'You're No Good'. In Dylan's hands this is a gentle folk blues, delivered with a certain naive charm. The rendering here could not be more different; imagine Johnny Kidd and The Pirates meets Led Zeppelin's take of 'In My Time Of Dying', coincidentally also on the first Dylan LP, and you'll have a fine idea of how it sounds. A bizarre combination, yet it works superbly.
I keep quoting the influences on this music, but make no mistake The Graveltones have their own distinct sonic palette, achieved by absorbing these influences, and creating a unique sound that is all their own. This is so much more satisfying than music that slavishly copies the sounds of the past, to create a perfect but soulless facsimile.
The music on 'Don't Wait Down' certainly nods to the past, but at the same time is most definitely music for now. To take a couple of examples, 'Lightning Bolt' sports a massive Bolanesque riff, while 'Catch Me On The Fly' references Wilco era Dr Feelgood, yet the end result is a pair of songs that are pure Graveltones.
'Don't Wait Down' is loaded with great songs, and the best of all is saved for the finale. 'Six Billion Miles' is an epic psychedelic mix of blues and glam, which rises from a hauntingly sparse beginning to a totally bonkers guitar wig-out, underpinned by some doom laden seaside organ work.
There's even a very brief but impressive drum solo, which further reinforces my view that Mikey is the living embodiment of the spirit of Bonzo. Finally, the music fades away to a whisper, ending the album on a contemplative note.
This is an album that rewards on each play, and for different reasons. On one level it's a great fun rock and roll record, on another it's packed with inventive sounds. Even more importantly some thought provoking lyrics and passion laden performances make for jusic that connects on an emotional level. This is music with soul, and I love it.
If you have a soul then you'll love it too, and if you have no soul, give 'Don't Wait Down' a spin, and you might just get one!
How many pints for this? Five!
1. Bang Bang
2. Forget About The Trouble
3. Dying On Your Feet
4. Crime To Be Talkin'
5. Saint Lucia
6. You're No Good
8. Lightning Bolt
9. I Am A Liar
10. Catch Me On The Fly
11. Never Going Back
12. Six Billion Blues