Brian Ames with David Danced Collective – Myth and Truth
The Blues and Gospel are flip sides of the same coin. Most foundational Blues musicians started their musical journeys in the pews of their family church. Country Blues musicians were often preoccupied with God, Jesus and Gospel music; the romantic and compelling image of Son House presiding over a bunch of booty shaking on Saturday night then rolling into church and presiding over some sacred grooving on Sunday morning. Brian Ames, the Chicago based singer and bassist, has compiled a fine set of music with Myth and Truth that highlights the sacred/secular by using a hard edged Blues Rock approach to classic Blues, Gospel and Country Blues material.
Brian Ames is a strong singer with a clear and well defined voice. As a bassist band leader he is also smart about the role his instrument plays in music such as this. He doesn’t overdo it with the low end. He and drummer Larry Beers are locked in and don’t get in the way. They allow for Ames’s lead singing, the material and the guest musicians to shine. Very importantly there are excellent guitarists on this record. Producer Noam Wallenberg plays rhythm on almost every track. Multi instrumentalist Packy Lundholm plays lead guit, piano and percussion all over the place. Other six string ringers include Jim Newcomb, Ronnie Stoops and Jamiah Rogers. This wouldn’t be much of a Gospel record if there weren’t a bunch of voices too. Singers Char McAllister, Jennifer Hall and Jim Schlueter add to the reverie and Melo Tripp adds excellent flow, rapping on two tracks.
About that rapping, usually rap verses inputted into Rock music is weak and really should be avoided at all costs. On the two tracks here featuring Melo Tripp, “Books of Moses” and “Pure Religion,” the conceit works. Both songs have a strong Funk foundation. The arrangements for the rap sections of both songs are similar and smart. The band breaks down to drums, bass and minimal melodic accompaniment. There is a strong groove behind Tripp’s excellent spitting. Tripp has a straightforward and clear delivery that is indebted to the cadence and timbre of Blues greats such as Muddy Waters or Little Walter as much as rap forefathers Chuck D and Q-Tip. Leading out of each rapped section the band hits it super hard with a charged up chorus. This allows for the transitions to feel connected to the song, making the rapped verses a bridge and structurally sound. (For extra credit check out Tom Wait’s version of “Books of Moses” for a different take, and anyone who hasn’t heard Blind Willie Johnson’s “Pure Religion” needs to do that right now)
Yes there are the perfunctory readings of “Wade in the Water” and “John the Revelator.” “Wade” is fine and very hard rocking even though it doesn’t really add much to the existing field. The winner here, and possibly the strongest track on the record, is “Revelator.” When your’s truly sees this track on an album like this, I’m skeptical. Few musicians have been able to even get close to the manic menace of Blind Willie Johnson’s seminal reading. By slowing the song way down to a funeral march Ames and Co. infuse this war horse with emotion and yearning. A slippery slide lead by Ronnie Stoops and the stripped down arrangement of guitar, bass and drums, helps to punctuate Ames’ strongest vocal performance on this record. This “Revelator” is unremitting.
Myth and Truth is a Blues Rock record about Jesus, God and religion. This music is removed from the original roots of Rock and Blues, when Rock n’ Roll was born out of the sliced speakers of guitarist at Sun and Chess studios. Myth and Truth is something harder and more modern. With wailing, delayed guitars and a few Hair Metal flourishes, this record transforms older devotional songs into big sized stompers and bangers. It’s a cool effect that is made cohesive by the excellent performances and obvious devotion to the material. If you are a religious person who likes to rock out to your God, check this out.