I wait for artists like this – someone who modernizes the traditional rock & roll heart & polishes it to a high sheen. I listen to Chuck & hear my blissful listening days of Ohio’s Donnie Iris, high haired Robert Gordon, a tinge of Robert Hazard, Dylan with singing lessons Mason Ruffner, Americana’s original Don Nix & retro-buffer Dave Alvin.
This is music that goes into your pores & radiates through your arteries. Mead’s 38-minute 4th solo LP Close to Home (Plowboy Records) box of nuggets resonates nicely & the opening tune “Big Bear in the Sky,” – a little muddy sounding but, it’s old fashioned 45 rpm rock.
By track 2 Mead opens another vintage door with crisp pedal steel guitar as it swoons through his words & perfecto mondo rock and roll voice. This has the Piz-azz of the ’50s without sounding too dusty. “I’m Not the Man for the Job” is even happy-go-lucky in a Jimmy Buffett short-sleeve palm tree island shirt by way of rockabilly Johnny Burnette’s oily garage.
Of course, this collection was recorded in Memphis & some in Nashville TN. At the Sam Phillips Recording Service where Elvis, Cash, Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins & Roy recorded their classics.
“My Baby’s Holding It Down,” has an undiluted Dave Alvin-John Doe-Dave Edmunds edge to its vintage Johnny River’s guitar-style. “My baby suffers no fools…” what a great line. Mead’s voice displays rich, aged wisdom of 50’s perfection & expressionism.
The band: Chuck on electric, acoustic guitars & percussion; Mark Andrew Miller provides bass & vocals; Martin Lynds hits the skins; Carco Clave stings the pedal steel, electric mandolin & resonator guitar; Rick Steff pounds piano, organ & mellotron; John Paul Keith adds guitar, baritone guitar color, & producer Matt Ross-Spang provides acoustic guitar & bangs on things. Quite a rock & roll ensemble.
“Better Than I Was (When I Wasn’t So Good),” has a touch of a Jimmie Dale Gilmore type vocal. If that isn’t your cup of tea the rock returns with “Daddy Worked the Pole,” – a track co-written with Otis Gibbs. Mead shouts & shuffles through a nice strutting melody with bopping guitar & piano. This is Eddie Cochran flavored, a little Bobby Fuller 4 energy in a Carl Perkins tradition. Old? Yeah. But like a vintage car in the sun, it’s got 5 coats of bright paint, lots of lacquer & Simonize polish.
Up next: the country-flavored title track “Close to Home,” & I hear granules of Johnny Horton, Johnny Bond & Hank Williams mixed into a steamy pot. It’s just a simple 1-2 beat with a pedal steel buzz like a mosquito at a picnic. Good vocals & performance.
Many songs start with standard chords of millions of early rock songs but that’s alright – it’s how memories stir. “The Man Who Shook the World,” is a little novelty but it has oil & vinegar.
“Billy Doesn’t Know He’s Bad,” follows a Roger Miller country approach but with the crafty attitude of Warren Zevon in the arrangement. Cool as lemon ice on a summer’s day. With “Tap into Your Misery,” the retro sound is mid-50’s but pulled from the same well as recent-memory Bob Dylan (Modern Times). Part 40’s swing, part 50’s lounge. Works for me.
“Shake,” is absolutely excellent. Reminiscent of the dark side of the Blasters (“Dark Night”), Los Lobos, Tito & Tarantula (who appeared in the film “From Dusk Till Dawn”). You want a thick atmosphere – look here.
For old-fashioned rock & roll aficionados — lots of torque comes with Chuck Mead. It will satisfy your rambunctious needs & he does it with respect to the genre. I’m going to play this CD again.
Release date: June 21st, 2019 – rev up those engines, suck up a malted & tie those Keds high tops tight. Website: http://www.chuckmead.com/home