Mean Old Fireman and the Cruel Engineers – Dumpster Fire
Self-Release – 2021
10 tracks; 44:41
Mean Old Fireman and the Cruel Engineers is a band, and a tight one, but it’s also a product of singer/guitarist Ned Bollé, whose personality, sound, and life experiences drive this album of horn-adorned blues.
Bollé has worked as a firefighter and paramedic for 20 years and you can hear the work imagery in his lyrics, and see it in the album art, if not the album title, which, to be fair, is a reference to 2020 and not a specific dumpster fire. His singing voice is gruff but sincere, but the selling point of Dumpster Fire is Bollé’s slide guitar work.
“Tour 3,” an original, is a plodding blues groove that allows Bollé to stretch out with some gorgeous slide lines that are pure melody. The tune also provides ample space for Dana Andrews’ harmonica, which soars through the song. Coming in at over five minutes, there’s a lot of ground covered, which lets you see what both musicians are capable of.
“Got No Spoons,” another original, is a slower blues, where Bollé flirts with jazz, aided by John Wadkins’ organ work. Like “Tour 3,” the tune has plenty of time for Bollé to solo. However, guitarist Toby Soriero joins him on the track here, contributing fretted guitar, the two seamlessly trading licks. Each guitarist has a strong musical persona, so you know exactly when each of them is playing, but it never feels jarring. They’re both listening to each other, and the song, creating pleasant waves of guitar.
The album also features covers. “Rocket 88” has what sounds like a sea of horns, all of the saxophones courtesy of Marty Phillips. The take here is a bit manic, with some of the original’s groove lost in this version’s brisk tempo. Conversely, Bollé’s take on Robert Parker’s go-go classic “Barefootin'” drags a little more than the original, causing the tune to lose its signature, iconic bounce. It’s notable that the originals tend to work better than the covers. Sometimes that’s a sign an artist needs to focus more on their own songwriting, and sometimes it’s an issue of cover selection. In this case, it might be indicative of Bollé’s slide guitar work, which can make any song sound good, but which seems to thrive within his own work.
Despite the title, Dumpster Fire is an album of solid slide guitar. Bollé’s vocals aren’t for everyone, but this is a collection of interesting songs from a tight band.