Reverend Shawn Amos & the Brotherhood with their new album, Blue Sky, tell us all to “Keep the faith. Have some fun. Spread a little joy to everyone”; and in doing so, they ignite these grooves with folky electric blues that blow harmonica salvation to the street corners of America’s soul.
You know, during Elvis Costello’s 1977 Saturday Night Live performance, he cut ‘Less Than Zero’ in mid song, mumbled something about “There’s no reason to play that song here”, and then burst into a red-hot poker rendition of (the brilliant) ‘Radio, Radio’. Oh, it was a bit staged, but such were the times as musicians turned the raw honesty of their amps up to ten. But Elvis had an axe to grind as he sang, “And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools/Trying to anesthetize the way that you feel”.
That’s the deal with Blue Sky: Rev Shawn & the Brotherhood’s music is rough, it’s gentle; it’s insightful; it sings with gospel clarity, and it slithers with the guile of a Biblical snake. And it’s always urgent with melodic passion.
The first three songs are nestled in a folk-blues territory. ‘Stranger Than Today’ shuffles with the swagger of a really good Steve Stills song back when he wrote stuff like ‘You Don’t Have To Cry’ or ‘Do For The Others’. The Rev’s harmonica and a pedal steel guitar float through the tune. ‘Troubled Man’ gets funky and electric with the brilliant guitar work of Chris “Doctor” Roberts and backing vocals by Ruthie Foster. And then there’s a wonderous burst from RSA’s crucial harmonica. ‘Her Letter’ rolls with a bluesy acoustic guitar and vocal that drips with confessional sincerity.
Truly, this band is, indeed, a wonderous Brotherhood. “Doctor” Robert’s guitar buzzes, groans, and sparks colours in these tunes. The engine room of drummer Brady Blade and bass player Christopher Thomas play with a wise and warm-worn pulse.
A few tough tunes follow with strident steps. ‘Counting Down The Days’ struts with fuzzy blues that punch with the burn of an electric boxing glove. And again, that harmonica ups the voltage. Odd, the brisk ‘Hold Back’ does conjure the sound of the before-mentioned Elvis Costello. As does ‘The Job Is Never Done’, which dips into the same pure fountain of ever-youthful rock ‘n’ roll. That’s high praise.
There are slow blues songs. ‘The Pity And The Pain’ really evokes The Band as Rev Shawn’s (sometimes) falsetto vocals oscillate between Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, with Kenya Hathaway on backing vocal and trusty ‘Doctor’ Roberts on molasses guitar. ‘Albion Blues’ (again with Kenya H. on backing vocal) gets distorted with a twisted syrup sound that recalls Los Lobos’ other-worldly masterpiece, Kiko.
Then, as (the great) Ronnie Hawkins was often heard to say, “It’s racket time!” ‘27 Dollars’ rocks with harmonica jive and finds a groove where, as Zora Neale Hurston in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, wrote, “All night now the jooks clanged and clamored. Pianos living three lifetimes in one.” Indeed, “there’s good rockin’ tonight.” And ‘Keep The Faith Have Some Fun’, with help of the Mudbug Brass Band, (in true Howlin’ Wolf fashion), kicks up “all the sawdust on the floor” as this Brotherhood (with handclaps galore) is able to “pitch a wang dang doodle all night long”.
Lots of name drops here. But Reverend Shawn with his Brothers play in rarified Down On The Corner – Willy and the Poor Boys air. There are no “fools” here who want to “anesthetise” anybody with “radio, radio” fodder. So, leave that to the latest celebrity Masked Singer. Truly, these guys know, with dead “standing at the crossroads” certainty, a pretty great “hellhound” reason to play every tune on this passionate record.
Artist’s website: http://www.shawnamos.com/brotherhood
‘Counting Down The Days’ – official video of the first single: