Album Review – Courtesy of Nigel Foster
Blacktop Deluxe – Turn Up, Be Nice, Play Hard.
“That is the coolest album title I have heard in years and this is the coolest Blues Rock album I have heard in ages. Blacktop Deluxe have delivered a monumental album of high octane, pedal to the metal Blues Rock that should become the soundtrack to any self- respecting fan’s summer of 2014. The conspirators of this crime are vocalist and supreme guitarist Keith Howe, Tim Chapple on bass and Alan Ibbotson on all things percussive.
The album cover and inlay are totally cool too and hint as to what drives Blacktop Deluxe, black tarmac, blurring white lines and inside the gleaming cylinder block of a pure muscle car. This is hard muscle music, played with total conviction.
Click the ignition, open the valves and we are heading out to the highway. Those are literally the sounds that open the album and fire up lead off track the strident Mustang 429, the Band’s pile-driving homage to a real muscle car. The engine purrs away on a deep groove and a pulsating Howe riff, the road opening up before us and disappearing behind us, such is the fury of the rhythm. Blacktop hit the red zone as Howe screeches out a rev limiter of a solo.
Voodoo Slide brings an immediate gear change built on a ton of low end torque, driven by the pounding drum and bass lines. Danger signs ahead as Howe regales the tale of the dangers of the bottle and the booze, painting an image of the futility of resistance through some scorching sparking slide.
Outta the Red erupts on another jagged cavernous riff that never lets up and a rhythm section groove that oozes venom. Metronomic timing is maintained by the guys providing a platform for Howe to spill out an angered vocal about a Blues band paying their dues, striving for recognition. The anger evident in a blistering bent out of shape solo. A real AC/DC vibe circa Highway to Hell, if AC/DC had recorded this it would be play-listed on every rock station on the planet.
Colour Me Gone, another gear shift. The backdrop to the song is Howe’s lengthy time in an induced coma and tells the tale through words and sounds of the disturbing trips he experienced. The beautiful instrumentation and melody, haunting gorgeous Sax solo and Howe’s unremitting solo will leave you ‘Comfortably Numb. 7 minutes of sprawling splendour.
Shotgun Calling Blues to coin BTD’s own phrase is a chugging riff fest, pummelling along on deep drum and bass lines and a bombastic Howe riff. Foot stamping fist pumping Bar Room Blues, nuff said!
Blacktop Deluxe can do mean and atmospheric too on the sublime But Not Today, a real showcase for the awesome talents of Keith Howe. The materialistic throw away 21st century and the collateral damage left in its wake the lyrical content. The guitar parts from Howe are jaw dropping moments to savour. The crying calling of a Gibson Les Paul and the pleading refrain of a screaming Stratocaster.
The accelerator is pressed to the floor and the needle flickers on the edges of the rev limiter as the band lay down an urgent groove on the furious Moving Up A Gear. Drum and bass licks pump away like screaming pistons and Howe has the valves burning hot as he flays out a shredding solo. Flesh it out with some honky tonk keys and a catchy as hell chorus and Mad Max is on the road again.
Smouldering Blues bleed out on Should Ha’ Gone Yesterday. The tale of broken love of a broken man. The picture painted by Howe’s clawing vocal and the swirling brush strokes of a sombre solo. The femme fatale arrives to deliver some velvet rich and powerful vocal harmonies and a sad Sax solo away in the background.
Always Been A Sinner is as low down and dirty as a Blues tune can get, another gargantuan grinding rhythm and a fearsome furious riff drive the whole thing on, think ZZ Top meets Seasick Steve meets Free and you have a measure of this thunderous number.
The shimmering sheen of Cascade is a delight. A bright airy melody that takes me back to Romeo and Juliet era Dire Straits, crystal clear flourishes and then a real surprise some sumptuous Latino licks reminiscent of Santana. This is no plagiarism, this is the band just drawing on influences and interpreting things their way. This put a massive smile on my face as it washed over me. One for the sun with a beer or cocktail in your hand.
A mere 40 odd minutes from the opening salvo and we are heading for the finish line via the clean beauty of the instrumental Short Walk. Lilting melody with a little funk weaving in and out, a mellow way to close out the album. The brothers heading off into the sunset as the engine and tyres smoke and cool.
I absolutely adore this album and I know that feeling will grow and grow as it becomes even more known to me.
Roll out the Hot Rod, flick the ignition switch, slide this in the CD player, ramp up the volume and floor it. Anchor that belt though because you are in for one hell of a ride.