Iko-Iko – Bullets In The Bonfire Vol.1 – The Songs Of Graham Wood Drout | Album Review

ikoikocdIko-Iko – Bullets In The Bonfire Vol.1 – The Songs Of Graham Wood Drout

Little Silver Records – 2014


15 tracks; 74 minutes

Graham Wood Drout is probably best known for the songs he has contributed to Albert Castiglia’s albums – “Big Toe”, “Ghosts Of Mississippi” and “Celebration” for example. However, in Florida Graham and his band Iko-Iko have been filling the clubs for thirty years with what they describe as ‘Urban Swamp Music’.  This generously filled retrospective includes material from across the band’s four albums (dating back as far as 1988) as well as one cut each from Albert’s first album and Graham and Albert’s acoustic “Bittersweet Sessions”.

The style is varied and includes elements of New Orleans second line rhythms, Americana, rock and R n’ B.  A large cast of musicians appear across this selection with Graham ever-present either as vocalist, bass or guitar player.  Larry Williams is on guitar on most tracks with Mike Bauer and Nick Kane playing on a couple of songs each; Stewart Jean plays drums on most tracks with Glenn Caruba on percussion on three tracks and Danny Swetland, Cam Robb and Joseph Anthony Smith helping out on drums on a few tracks; Mike Mennel is on bass with Mark Harris on one track and Graham himself on three cuts; Bob Hemphill adds harp to two tracks and Doug Leibinger plays keys on four selections.  Ron Dziubla makes a significant contribution to the Iko-Iko sound playing both sax on six tracks, organ on three and guitar on one.  Albert Castiglia appears on the two tracks culled from his and Graham’s output.  Apart from one traditional tune Graham wrote everything here with some assistance from band members.

The collection opens with three strong songs, each enhanced with Ron’s sax playing.  The band give us some New Orleans sounds in “Party Car”, debate what the American Dream is all about in “(I Never Had An) American Dream” before the original version of “Celebration” which allows us to compare it with the two versions that Albert has recorded.  Ron’s fine sax coda certainly distinguishes this version though both Albert’s recordings are also excellent – it is simply an outstanding song.

“Miller’s Woods” is a swampy number with some creepy lyrics about a strange place where “my spirits dwell like a silver dollar down a wishing well – they know I’ve been there before”. “Late Hours” and “Snowstorm In The Jungle” include Bob Hemphill’s harp, the former a slow paced instrumental feature for Bob that fits its title well, the latter a funky rocker in which the harp is more about adding colour. “Pet De Kat” has some more NO style party music with Ron’s sax a central feature.

Three songs with interesting titles then follow: the wonderful title “Jalapeño Be Thy Name” takes us to the border territories with its Mexican rhythms and Ron again featuring on sax and very Mexican trumpet, Graham’s lyrics giving praise to the preferred hot spice of that area; “Too High To Drive” rocks along nicely while “Walk With The Zombie” is very strange with a distant spoken radio voice eventually giving way to a slow tune dominated by Ron’s sax, Graham adding to the weird feel of the song by almost speaking the lyrics.  The attractive Americana rhythm of “Riding The Rims” has a catchy feel with piano heavily featured and would be a song that would be a good fit for someone like Tom Petty.

The two collaborations with Albert Castiglia find Albert on his first recording “Burn”, tackling Graham’s “The Day The Old Man Died” a song about the death of Albert’s former employer, Junior Wells. One immediately recognises Albert’s distinctive voice as he sings of how he reacted to Junior’s passing and Albert also sings “Ghosts Of Mississippi” in an acoustic version taken from Graham and Albert’s “Bittersweet Sessions”.  This song is another superb example of Graham’s craft as a songsmith, evoking the way that this music crossed from Africa with the slaves to take root in the Delta: “Meet me at the bottom, where the Southern cross the Dog, where the ghosts of Mississippi meet the gods of Africa”.  The song has been recorded in full electric band mode by Albert and was also an integral part of fellow Floridian Joey Gilmore’s success at the IBC’s a few years ago.

The only real criticism of this collection is the inclusion of two live tracks, both of which suffer in comparison with the studio tracks: “Don’t Mess With The Voodoo” has a ‘muddy’ sound and “Motherless Children” clocks in at over ten minutes of guitar noodling that sounds like a slow night with The Grateful Dead.  The collection might have benefited from dropping these two cuts.

Graham Wood Drout is not really a bluesman but with such a variety of styles there is plenty of good music to enjoy here and affords the opportunity to enjoy the work of a real craftsman songwriter.

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