Big Daddy T – Judas Goat I Album Review

Big Daddy T –¬†Judas Goat

Released August, 2018

Earthtone Records

8 Tracks, 39 minutes

Influenced by a wide range of blues styles – ranging from 20’s jazz and country blues from the 30s, electric Chicago-style blues, and the electric blues rock of the first wave of English interpreters of the blues – bassist and vocalist Tony “Big Daddy T” Wisler has distilled it all to create a unique style of house-rockin’ blues that goes well beyond the expected 12-bar format. The result is an engaging repertoire of songs that beg – and withstand the scrutiny of – repeated listening.

Based in Southern California, Wisler has put together a 5-piece band that consists of Wisler leading the band on upright and electric bass and vocals, and backed by guitar, harmonica, keys, and drums. This album highlights 8 tracks, 7 of which were penned by Wisler, along with a cool Tom Waits track for seasoning. Additional musicians rounding-out the album performances include Billy Burke, Hector Barrera, and K.C. Igler on guitar, Johnny Pie on harmonica, Crystal Chavez on piano and vocals, Joe Chellman on drums, Joe DiFiore on clarinet, Stan Harrison on organ, D.A. McCormick on resonator guitar and vocals, and Chris Mulkey on recitation. The album was produced by Wisler, McCormick, Burke, and Ali Helnwein, with John Piechowski as Executive Producer.

About the album title: A Judas goat is a trained goat used in general animal herding. The Judas goat is trained to associate with sheep or cattle, leading them to a specific destination. In stockyards, a Judas goat will lead sheep to slaughter, while its own life is spared. Kind of dark, but an apt metaphor for a collection of tunes that have their own darkness about them

The album has a low-fi, warts-and-all feel to it, a refreshing respite from the over-production that sometimes accompanies records produced in the digital era. The opening track, “Let it Burn,” starts-off with an almost dirge-like cadence, but picks-up the tempo about half-way through to become a mid-tempo rocker. With the feeling of a “live” performance, it’s as if you’re right in the room with the band, and they’re firing on all cylinders.

“Nothing Left to Do (But Cry)” chugs along as a roots rocker, propelled by a pulsing rhythm section and some gritty slide, and accentuated by Johnny Pie’s greasy, electrified harmonica fills.

“Yesterday’s Dreams” has a soul inflection that serves as a somewhat “up” note in a collection of songs that is generally gritty and introspective.”Jockey Full of Bourbon” is Wisler’s take on a Tom Waits song off of his 1985 Rain Dogs album. Skipping Waits’ upbeat rhumba rhythm for a much more somber approach, it does justice to Waits’ esoteric lyrical approach.

“God’s Not Dead” makes you feel as if you’re in a 1920’s speakeasy, especially with the addition of Joe DiFiore’s lyrical clarinet accompaniment, and some sweet resonator fills, all in support of the lyrical message that can be summed-up as “You’re never gonna win, but it never hurts to try.” “Good-Time Jake” is the album’s house-rocker, and features some tasty guitar from Billy Burke.

The piano intro to “Simon Pure Labrick Blues” sounds like it originated in a post-Civil War Montana saloon, before morphing into something that might have found its way into Freddie King’s repertoire. The lyrics, however, tell a tale about the challenges of writing the perfect blues tune.

The title track, “Judas Goat,” is a dark, brooding, reverb-drenched blues-rock slog, featuring some gritty guitar work and Pie’s atmospheric harmonica work winding in and out.

All in all, Judas Goat is a very listenable collection of rootsy blues originals that have a very distinct personality, albeit one that tends to the darker, grittier side. The individual performances are solid, and serve the songs well. The production captures the raw energy of each performance, and the entire CD hangs together very nicely. If you prefer your roots and blues on the raw side, Tony Wisler’s latest might be just the thing you’re looking for!

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