9 tracks/35:25 minutes
On this new album, bassist Dennis Pinhorn and drummer Al Webster join forces with guitarist Wickens to deliver a powerful groove reminiscent of groups such as Foghat, Free, Mountain, and Ten Years After. From Wickens’ bright slide guitar riffs on the opening song, “Foolish Heart,” to his gruff and ready vocals and the fuzzed up intro to the final cut, “In My Time of Dying,” the band ruminates soulfully over lust, lost love, misguided love, and revenge.
In a cut that could come straight off of Foghat’s first album—Wickens’ vocals channel Lonesome Dave Peverett—the fuzzy vocals and lead guitar resemble “Trouble, Trouble” as Wickens sings about the troubles that come from following the ways of the heart. The tune kicks off the album in high gear, almost daring the following songs to keep pace. Crunchy jazz guitar whips out the rhythm on “Love & Lust” as the band funks up a la Steely Dan in a tune devoted to the potent combination of longing and wanting that fuel love and lust. The singer loves the way his lover “moves and shakes that thing,” and he drowns in her eyes so he “can’t feel a thing.” But it’s “in the way you move/when I cross the floor/makes other men banging at your door.” His unquenchable thirst for every part of his lover’s body and soul stirs jealousy, too, as well as an aching want he can’t get out of his bones.
“Fall Apart” opens with Wickens’ stinging lead riff, recalling the best of Leslie West, and the trio is at its best in this straight ahead, down-to-the-bones blues rocker. This is the best song on the album. “Rock Bottom” channels early Ten Years After, and Wickens again kicks off the song with infectious lead riffs that lead naturally to a chugging and almost mournful cry from the depths of despair. Of all the songs on the album, the slow, dark music mirrors the lyrics: “I’ve tried spirits/I’ve tried tea/So life brings me/To my knees/I’m rock bottom/Do you hear me?/Rock bottom/Can you help me?” The use of an echo chamber for the vocals on the chorus emphasizes the emptiness the singer feels as he’s hit the deepest ground of depression.
On the final track, “In My Time of Dying”—and the only song on the album not written by Wickens—gospel and blues meet at the crossroads of Wickens’ tasty slide guitar and the call-and-response vocals of Pinhorn and Webster. The blues treatment creates an atmosphere of unreadiness to die, even though the lyrics preach otherwise. Wickens’ powerful, gruff voice preaches the sermon on top of his fast-talking slide riffs.
On Hi Lo-Fi, Dylan Wickens & The Grand Naturals demonstrates their canny abilities to take hold of tunes and musical traditions, embrace them, and make them their very own.