10 tracks / 33:56
Every year there is a new crop of talented young singers and guitarists on the music scene, but what happens to them? Many end up joining a cover band and established bands capture most of the rest of them, and only a very small percentage go on to do great things. These are the men and women who have not only have the talent to perform, but who also have a vision and the creativity and work ethic to fulfill it. Judging by A.J. Fullerton’s debut solo studio album, Kalamath, he is a part of that small percentage who will get it right.
Fullerton is in his early twenties, and he grew up in rural Colorado where he was raised on a musical diet of classic rock, blues, folk, and bluegrass. Music has been A.J.’s career since he was 19, and he has already gained fame within the Centennial State. Fullerton was chosen as the Colorado Blues Society’s solo/duo entrant for the 2017 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, in addition to earning a dozen “Member’s” Choice” awards from the Society over the past two years. He also maintains a heavy gig schedule, and plays over 200 shows per year.
Kalamath is a self-produced album, and A.J. wrote nine of the ten songs, sang the lead vocals, and played most of the guitar parts. For this project, he was joined at Scanhope Sound in Littleton, Colorado by Stud Ford on drums (North Mississippi Allstars, T-Model Ford, Light’n Malcolm), Todd Edmonds on bass (Otis Taylor Band), and Eric Luba on piano and organ. But that is not all, as every track features at least one guest artist, and each song is a neat piece of work. By the way, major kudos go out to Joshua Fairman, the engineer for this project, as it is very well recorded and this guy could give clinics on how to properly record drums – they sound awesome throughout.
The album starts out with the title track, and “Kalamath” is a tight piece of rock with a tinge of folk thanks to the layers of acoustic and electric guitars. Fullerton has a strong voice and this song is right within his range. I usually hate to compare singers to other artists, but have to say that he has the talent and sound of a young Eddie Vedder. There is neat orchestration to this song with cool organ work from Luba, and a special added folk element is the fife of Sharde Thomas. This song is followed up by “She’s So Cold,” a blues rocker with a dirty guitar tone from A.J. and distorted harmonica from Nic Clark. Not everything is rock on this album, as “Falling Apart at the Seams” is a laid-back tune with grand dynamic changes, a catchy chorus, and a melodic guitar solo. Fullerton has taken great care in refining his guitar tones, and there are great examples on this track.
There is plenty of variety on Kalamath, despite its relative short run time of 34 minutes. “Lover Come Back” is a dirty roadhouse tune at its core, but it crosses genres with soulful backing vocals from Megan Burtt. Denver’s Chuck Lettes lends his pedal steel to “Miles Between Us,” which is a radio-friendly soft rocker with a pretty melody and easygoing mood. “Smoke and Mirrors” has a folk feel with electric instrumentation, more harp from Clark, and a fabulous dry drum sound from Stu Ford. The band even worked in a piano-heavy ballad, “Oh Frustration,” which features the lovely vocal harmonies of Hannah Holbrook.
All of the songs on this disc are very good (and they all work well together), but there are a few standouts. One of these is “Highway 285,” a Southern rock song that has a bit of a Deep Purple vibe thanks to the organ of Luba. This is also the only track where A.J. brought in another guitarist, and the interplay between him and Taylor Scott is amazing. The other shining star is the only non-original song in the set, “Wish I Was in Heaven Sittin’ Down.” This song was chosen as the closer and it is delivered as a heavy piece of swamp rock with harmonica from Brandon Bailey. This is nothing like the R.L. Burnside version that you may be familiar with, and it works in every way.
Kalamath is a fine collection of blues, roots, and rock, or maybe I should just call it “Americana.” It is well recorded and well written, and there is not a bad song to be found on it. A.J. Fullerton is just getting started on his career and this album is solid indication that he is going to have staying power within the industry. Head over to his website at www.ajfullerton.com and check out Fullerton’s work and gig schedule – you will be impressed!