I always felt a twangy guitar worked best depending on whose voice linked between its notes. LA roots musician John Surge doesn’t have a twangy Randy Travis or Dwight Yoakam voice, but he does have rockabilly fuel. Together, the music has kindling. It ignites interest as quickly as fire rises in the hearth.
From his 9-track debut LP Your Wonderful Life (Independent — drops Oct. 25th) is “Ricochet,” which has the vintage elements of an energetic heartland melody & a pinch of Traveling Wilbury. Keep this momentum & Surge will surge with spirit. It’s all about potent songs. Maybe he’ll deliver. Let’s see.
The title track comes with equal endurance. A good sign. John’s voice isn’t as deep as rockabilly veteran Robert Gordon, but he does have a durable élan of a true vocal barnstormer.
“Barstow to Baker,” pulls back the twang & unravels a beautiful ballad. Crisp snare beat, deep reliable organ intro & chiming guitars. In this realm, Surge is somewhat in a Jason & the Scorchers world. He has a generous helping of rousing vocals akin to a Russ Tolman (True West) as found on “Marla Jane,” with a Webb Wilder edge. Thus, the mix of 70’s-80’s enriched roots-music with pure Nick Lowe pop music works generously in his favor. The dual vocals with KP Hawthorn bring the flavor out. More of this would be great & he does.
The LP is filled with weathered personalities, pounding the pavement or just trying to get further down the highway to the next luncheonette. Surge explores this environment of California that Tom Waits ignores. Instead of a rundown motel, it’s a battered service station with a cantina. It’s living in a mobile trailer with all the luxuries that down & dirty cheap can afford.
The band assembled include Randy Volin (guitar), Simon Runge (drums), Alex U’ren (bass), & Kevin Jarvis (Producer). With guest musicians: pedal steel guitar Marty Rifkin (who played on Bruce Springsteen’s recent country LP), bassist Steve Nelson, harmony singer KP Hawthorn, & keyboardist Carl Byron.
“One Promise at a Time,” & “You’re Really Good (At Making Me Feel Bad),” are both excellent guitar-driven melodic tracks. Probably the best commercially suited examples of Surge’s ability to lasso a listener’s ear.
“Gun Sale at the Church,” is a moderate tempo country-rocker worth the price of admission. Duane Eddy type lead guitar smokes, & on this song, John’s vocal runs a long finger along the brim of Alejandro Escovedo’s musical cup. The momentum continues…
To prove John doesn’t just function up-tempo always, “Long Enough,” arrives slow, absorbing. It’s a ballad with sincere vocals, & lightly layered guitar. Vocals reminiscent of Philly’s late-career Americana artist Robert Hazard. Toward the end of his life, he turned out exceptional, expressive roots LPs.
John has that here, but please, lose the cowboy hat. The music doesn’t need that image & it’s a cliché you don’t need.