16 songs – 58 minutes
21 Grams Of Sulphate is a curious, fragmented release from The Society Of The Angelic Potheads. The CD arrived with no accompanying background information; the CD sleeve is littered with typographical errors and missing information such as writing credits; and the band has minimal online presence. The website noted above has links to a number of songs, lists three band members (only one of whom is credited as appearing on the CD) and simply states: “The Potheads Purveyors of songs from the Hogsmill Delta. Blending of Blues mixed with a dash of Lonnie Donegan, Slade, and various Herbs and Spices found high up on the hills surrounding the Hogsmill, before it joins the Thames” (sic).
The credits on the CD sleeve suggest 21 Grams of Sulphate is a studio recording project, given that D. Norman is credited with playing guitar, bass, drums and lead vocals on 11 of the songs. J. Younge provides lead guitar and lead vocals to two songs and W.J. Dodd contributes harmonicas and lead vocals to four songs. Younge and Dodd are both credited with lead vocals on “Key To The Highway” while Val Cowell contributes lead vocals to a pretty faithful cover of the Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands To Yourself.”
The music itself is not easy to categorize. The album kicks off with the self-written, slide-driven blues-rock rumble of “Double Lock That Door”. It’s an impressive opening number, with W.J. Dodd’s lead vocals recalling the rough-hewn tones of British singers like Lee Brilleaux or Pete Gage. Woodie Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” is then re-interpreted as a one chord drone with good supporting harp from Dodd, whose playing is also a highlight of heavy folk-blues of “Ain’t Gonna Let It Happen”.
But mixed in with the blues and blues-rock tracks is the throwaway punk-pop of “Stella A.K.A. Belly Button Fluff” and the electro-pop-folk of “Pothead Night In” with its lyrical celebration the joys of staying in, smoking and then getting the munchies. “Woke Up This Morning” is not a cover of the BB King classic but a grinding original rock number with a gospel-style call and response vocal line over some howling, distorted garage guitar. The band adopts a similar approach when updating “Black Betty” with distorted harmonica under Dodd’s muscular vocals.
Perhaps the primary curiosity of 21 Grams, however, is the schizophrenic nature of the entire endeavor. Why bother going to the effort of recording a CD (and clearly a lot of hard work has gone into the album), then make it so difficult to find out anything about the band? There are lots of ideas in the songs themselves, but some of them are lacking direction. “Mr Radio Man” feels slightly unfinished as it cries out for movement away from its simple three-chord rock structure, while Curtis Mayfield’s “You Must Believe Me” (re-titled as “Believe In Me”) has its soul-pop backbone stripped out and replaced with a punk attitude and a rough demo-feel that dilutes the power of the recording. Dodds’ harmonica playing is impressive throughout the album, but Norman’s drumming and bass playing can lend a very staid, lumpen feel to the music. Thus, Ry Cooder’s “Every Woman I Know” is played as an upbeat shuffle, but it only emphasizes the rhythmic magic of the original, while “If You’re Ready” (with guest vocals by Miss McGregor) lacks the laid-back yet irresistible groove of the Staples Singers’ version.
The best moments on 21 Grams are usually on tracks with no or minimal drums. Lonnie Donegan’s old skiffle number, “Ham And Eggs”, is re-envisaged as an acapella work song, complete with chanted “Ha”s and scratchy recording technology. Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway” is an almost clichéd choice of cover, but the strummed acoustic guitar, Dodd’s swooping harmonica and Younge’s aching guitar solo make it one of the album highlights. The drumming works best on the straight 4/4 rock songs, so the electronic-rock-gospel of “Woke Up This Morning” is genuinely thrilling and “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” has a chorus that recalls the best of the Yardbirds’ pop years.
A curate’s egg of a release, then, but one that suggests there is definite potential for The Society Of The Angelic Potheads.