9 tracks / 33:29
The Internet is not a lot of help when researching Rough Max and the Steamrollers, so details about this band and their new release, Roots in the Blues, Crown in My Pocket, are scarce. The web did offer up that Rough Max Pieri hails from Caserta, Italy, and the liner notes indicate that he wrote all of the songs for this album, as well as providing the vocals and bass. The Steamrollers include Luciano “Lucky” Pesce on keyboards and backing vocals, and Corrado D’Amato on drums, and backing vocals.
This is a short disc, with nine tracks crammed into 33 minutes, and thankfully the band included the lyrics in the CD package, as there are a lot of moments where the listener might say, “Did he really sing that?” The answer to this question is usually yes, as though the lyrics are in English, they rarely make sense and never flow terribly well. If this was not the intention, Rough Max might need to work with a native English-speaking songwriter to touch up the lyrics a bit next time around.
Enough with the whining, let’s see what this stuff sounds like! The opening track, “Candy Ass Blues” has a 1960s space-pop vibe, with hammering electric piano from Pesce and plenty of fat bass and distorted vocals from Rough Max. “Quiet Man” backs this up with more psychedelic sounds, this time augmented with even more agitated vocals, whacky organ samples, and some harmonica accents from guest artist Martino Palmisano. D’Amato really cuts loose on his drums with “I Am too Loose (I Want to Stand),” making this song rock out harder, while “Junk” uses Sebastiano Lillo’s guitar to achieve the same effect. These first four songs fit together thematically, which makes for a rather intense listening experience.
There is a break in the mood when “Guilty” comes up in the playlist, as this is a slower-paced experimental jazz number. This song has a simple foundation with a more conventional bass line and lovely jazz improvisation from Lucky Pesce on the piano. The vocals are not quite as processed, so the listener can discern Max’s accent, and there is an interesting loop of edgy vocals and percussion that plays above the mix throughout. This might just be the standout track for this release due to the creativity that went into it.
After this break, “Hey Big Wonder” lays down a more conventional blues and funk sound with very nice electric piano from Luciano. This leads into the sole instrumental track on the album, “The Second Bite,” a jam that contains equal parts of jazz and funk. There is abrupt shift after this with “Betrayal” which is a heavy blues rocker with, again, a lot of distorted vocals. By this point in the album, this effect has grown stale and starts to grate on the ears. After this song, the disc finishes up with “Little Stone in My Pocket,” an upbeat pop song with kind of disturbing non-sequitur lyrics.
Roots in the Blues, Crown in My Pocket from Rough Max and the Steamrollers is certainly different, and it features great instrumental performances from each of the musicians. Most of the material strays far from conventional blues, so Blues Blast readers might want to preview a few tracks before throwing down their hard-earned cash to pick up their own copy.