CD: 9 Songs, 47:39 Minutes
Styles: Guitar Monster Rock, Ensemble Rock, All Original Songs
True confession – I’ve only used this tagline once, and hope never to do so again. This is NOT a blues album. California’s Johnny Oskam is a rocker, pure and simple, along the lines of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Don’t let the quotes on his website, from blues rock greats like Coco Montoya and Jonny Lang, fool you. (“I wasn’t expecting all that,” said Lang, and “He can play, man!” was what Coco commented.) From start to finish, In My Shadow is a hard rock CD with a touch of acoustic flair on one particular number.
Ms. Wetnight knows that she’s listed “Guitar Monster Blues” as a descriptor for quite a few albums lately, but this one tops them all. It takes the cake. It exemplifies the old adage that “some folks like to hear themselves talk,” although in this case, Oskam’s shredder does the speaking (and shrieking). An unspoken rule of our genre is that one can’t put the word “blues” in a rock song and magically transform it into a blues song. However, that’s just what our hero does on track two, “Deep in my Bones.”
The big upside to this release is that it’s great for what it is: a take-no-prisoners thrash rock showcase. On vocals, Johnny is average but amiable. On guitar, he’s above-average, but more B- than B+. In these days of techno-synth savagery, scales and arpeggios don’t impress crowds like they used to.
His well-designed corner of the Web reveals some promotional praise: “Drawing his influence from the likes of blues greats such as Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, as well as rock acts from Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin to Soundgarden and Rival Sons and everything in between, Johnny Oskam fuses together elements of rock and blues from all over the spectrum to form an altogether original sound. The most notable feature of this young, undiscovered talent is his songwriting ability, which easily competes with the top writers of today’s industry. His songs can be hard-hitting and heavy, yet dynamic and soulful at the same time. His influences can be heard in all of his songs, but he is by no means just a derivative…Some young guys write songs to get chicks [more on this later/brackets mine], but this young man has a truly honest and real soul. ‘I’m not trying to be anyone else but myself,” Oskam says. “Why would I want to copy somebody else when nobody else can be me but me?’”
Along with Johnny on lead vocals and guitar are Katin Burns on drums and percussion; Marc Encabo on bass guitar; Kyle Schafer on keys and background vocals; Jonathan Eastly on keyboards; Michael Oskam on background vocals, and Emilio Tello on rhythm guitar and background vocals.
The following song, the raw opener of this album, shows listeners exactly what they’re in for.
Track 01: “Badlands” – For those of you unfamiliar with the U.S. landmarks, the Badlands of North and South Dakota are foreboding, barren hills and plateaus where almost nothing grows. Traversing them is very difficult, and Oskam has found these same obstacles within his mind. “I don’t care what the doctor said. I’ve gone crazy in my head. I can’t cross that begging wall. Slip my fingers and I fall.” With an introduction that would set Hendrix’s teeth on edge, this song is a sliver of madness, allowing us a glimpse into our protagonist’s tormented, unrelenting state.
A close friend of mine, the Purest Purist when it comes to the blues, once told me, “I don’t like what these young folks are doing to [it].” He won’t like In My Shadow, but hard rockers will!