Karl Stoll and the Danger Zone – The Workhouse
CD: 11 Songs, 51 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Ensemble Blues, Americana, All Original Songs
In the Victorian era (think Dickens as well as the Queen), The Workhouse was a fate on par with jail. Perhaps worse, because your only crime was being poor. You slaved for up to sixteen hours a day to earn your living – shabby room and board which you shared with your fellow laborers. You had a roof over your head and food in your belly, but the price was steep. Karl Stoll and the Danger Zone, from Washington, D.C., are right to liken this place to a modern-day prison farm.
Their sophomore album pays homage to it on the fourth track out of ten original songs. They’re a boisterous mixture of electric blues rock, ensemble blues, roots and Americana. A few slow-dance numbers appear (“Open Your Arms,” “Sometimes,” and “Fantasy Girl”), but for the most part, they’re fast and furious. Consider the opening number, which made me go “Wow, I like this” before the intro was halfway over. It’s called “Meet Me in New Orleans,” and you’ll go there in your mind if not in person. It’s the first song I’ve heard in years where the drum solo is at the beginning – a refreshing change of pace. So is my favorite tune here: “Love is a Two-Way Street.” It’s a slapdash ditty that makes no apologies for its short, reductive lyrics (“Love-love-love-love is a two way street” and “High heels, short skirt/Tight blouse, fur coat. Blonde hair/blue eyes. Hot moves/cool vibes”). I can’t stop looping and listening to it.
In other news, “He Was My Dad” and “Why Does it Feel So Good?” serve as back-to-back sermons on how not to turn your life into a train wreck. As my own father would say, “We’re hard-wired for sin. Get smarter faster.” What’s a lyrical example of not doing this? “You can lie. You can steal. You can act like it’s no big deal. . .You’re in big trouble. You’re gonna burn. You should know better. You never learn! Why does it feel so good to be so bad?” I know the feeling.
Karl Stoll and the Danger Zone have been playing on the D.C. area circuit for many years. The band features our leading man on guitar and lead vocals, John “Mojo” Dickson on harmonica, Brian Alpert on drums, and Dean Dalton on bass. Other guests include Steve Wolf, Tommy Lepson, Shep Williams on keyboards, Joe Brotherton on trumpet, Megan Nortrup on sax, Grammy nominee David Sager on trombone, Josh Howell on percussion, and the Too Much Sisters (Anita King and Caz Gardner) on female vocals.
Overall, this is a great CD, but sometimes the Danger Zone forgets less is more. The title track pounds home its message like a sledgehammer. By the two-minute mark (of 6:26), we’ve gotten the point. Instrumentally, there’s lots going on. The complexity of all the melodies at the same time can quickly overwhelm. If they find a better balance among their various tools of their trade, they can transform their already-notable work into a future collection of masterpieces.
Has life locked you up in The Workhouse? Let Karl Stoll and his posse free you from your chains!