Satin Whale. It took me a while but that's what the opening track of Bullfighter Blues brought to mind the first time I heard it. Never heard of them? Think the jazzy side of Krautrock back the the early seventies. Satin Whale was one of the Brain Trust--- the many German bands which became import classics on the Brain label: Grobschnitt, Thirsty Moon, Neu!, Cluster, and Guru Guru. Some damn fine stuff came out of the Hamburg-based label and Bravo Max, had they stayed with the sound of “Prelude to Clean Slate” could have passed as Brainy, but they didn't. And couldn't. They have music to make.
The music they make, at least on this latest release, is hardly that narrow, the trio reaching out to a string of seventies bands, either knowingly or otherwise. I loved the late-sixties and early-seventies for the wide-open attitude toward music. And not just the hits. I loved the deep, deep tracks by the lesser- and unknowns, the bands few remember but about which there seems to be new interest. If there wasn't, there would not be a Brain box set on the horizon.
Bravo Max is not the only band out there playing loose with the sounds of the past. Hell, I'm pretty sure most don't even know the sounds are of the past, but I can point to Cinci's Mad Anthony as fellow envelope pushers. I'm sure there are others but just none which come to mind at the moment. I love what they're doing, though, and couldn't be more thrilled with Bullfighter Blues.
I hear bits and pieces of May Blitz, Sir Lord Baltimore, The Groundhogs, Jukin' Bone, Damnation, Dust, and others. The thing about these bands is that there was no perfection in their music. They played with abandon, either not having the deep pockets to perfect or preferring to not. Their vocals are hardly perfect but somehow perfectly fitting. Their bedrock grooves allow the guitar room to move, and move it does. They play everything from the jazzy (“Prelude to Clean Slate”) to the punchy (“MI-5's Alive”) to the semi-psychedelic (“Shake Loose Paranoia”) to latent R&B/Soul (“Clean Slate?) and do it with a flair you seldom hear anymore.
I guess you could also call the entire album prog, too, if you want to. They certainly do not live off of major chords most of the time and they change time signatures on certain songs like newborns change diapers. Neither quickly nor smoothly (what the biz sometimes calls “tight”) but openly and honestly. They give the music, warts and all.
Favorite tracks: “Prelude to Clean Slate,” though it certainly could be longer (it clocks in at a mere 1:32); “Clean Slate,” thanks to its R&B groove and horns; “Raise a Toast,” a cross between real seventies rock and what the major labels would have preferred; and “Black Sugar,” for the rhythm and chorus. Good, good stuff.
There is an awful lot of good music thus far this year but this one is special. I can see myself playing this as a palate cleanser, an album to clear the standard out of my ears, to clear the head. It might very well take one of the top spots the course of this year, it being just far enough outside the envelope to make a real dent.
And to think I almost passed this one by. Man, am I happy I didn't!