REVIEW: Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel’s “Roscoe Sampler” is a Sweet Journey Through Guitar Riffs and Americana Surprises


Eric “Roscoe” Ambel is a roots rock Renaissance man whose span of mastery in the field would make anyone’s head spin. He was an original Blackheart with Joan Jett, one of Steve Earle’s Dukes, and a member of both the punk rock band the Del-Lords and the roots rock Yayhoos, with Dan Baird of the Georgia Satellites, Keith Christopher on bass (Lynyrd Skynrd) and Raleigh’s Terry Anderson on drums.

Ambel owns Cowboy Technical Services Recording studio in Brooklyn where he has produced and mixed musicians like Ryan Adams, the Bottle Rockets, Robert Randolph and the Squirrel Nut Zippers.   He’s also partnering in a brand new record label, Solo Sounds, which has already released more than 70 albums in the eighteen months since its inception. All the releases are recorded at 192kHz/24bit and are unique recordings of one artist on one solo instrument playing a classic hit album.

In the midst of his many projects, he has just released a sampler, aptly named Roscoe Sampler, of music from three of his earlier albums: Roscoe’s Gang, Loud & Lonesome and Knucklehead. The album also features one previously unreleased recording, “A Charmer’s Tale;” in and of itself that makes the purchase of this collection worth the investment. The song was from a session in 1997, which yielded “Garbagehead” and “Stepside” on Knucklehead. “A Charmer’s Tale” is a lyrically sordid story of the double meaning of “charming” and a treat for the fans who didn’t know he was holding one out on them. Ambel reports it was one of those songs that he wrote quickly as it came tumbling out all at once. We’re just glad he finally shared it.

Ambel has a reputation as a rock guitar player with a particularly down & dirty tone, so the variety in his selection and sequence on this album will come as a pleasant surprise. “Red Apple Juice” is a traditional Americana folk song.

An interpretation of “You Were Always On My Mind” is another standout, and a love song at that. And there are songs that are downright alt-country, like “30 Days in the Workhouse” with its somber message, traditional feel and exceptional vocals, notably by Syd Straw (Pat Benatar, Ricky Lee Jones); and “Loose Talk,” where Straw’s vocals again absolutely bring out the best in Ambel’s.  Listen here:

For diehard fans of the Ambel power rock, there are plenty of those bold tracks too: “Total Destruction to Your Mind”(from 1988), “Way Outside,” “Judas Kiss”(with Steve Earle), “Song For the Walls,” “Lonely Town” (with Warner Hodges). “Long Gone Dream” was co-written with the recently departed Greg Trooper, so its meaning has expanded to include a touching farewell tribute. And then there’s the playful “Does It Look That Bad?” (with the Yayhoos).

The songs on the Roscoe Sampler will take you on a magic journey through enchanting audio imagery with gripping guitar riffs and ideal grooves.   Ambel’s music reveals a depth of nimble resourcefulness that only comes with true mastery of the art form.

Music production is its own artistic medium distinct from the songs themselves, and when a musician is also an acclaimed producer, the album that emerges cannot help but bear the extra signs. For instance, a great album ought to be balanced, with a range of tempos and styles, in addition to showcasing each song. And a sampler of a man’s work ought to cover most of the bands he’s played in and musicians he’s worked closely with, like a good Whitman’s sampler would. This collection is an artistic success on all those counts, in addition to being just plain excellent music.  It’s a perfect way to get to know Ambel’s range of work, and a required addition to your collection if you are already a fan.

Purchase the album, immediately, here:

Check out Solo Sounds here.

Find Ambel’s tour dates here.

Cover art Chris Bryson; cover photos by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel


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