Tom Skinner’s Science Project – First Set
A commendable well-delivered musical journey through a J.J. Cale environment. This band forges on after the passing of red-dirt music pioneer, guitarist & songwriter Tom Skinner (1954-2015). His longtime associate, multi-instrumentalist Don Morris became the band’s leader/vocalist & filled out the cast with Brad James (guitarist/producer), Rick Gomez (drums) & Dylan Layton (bass/producer) with some assorted guests.
The Science Project under Skinner’s leadership existed for over 15 years & Morris has kept it rolling for another 5. This 14-cut LP was recorded in Arkansas & Oklahoma.
“Sleeping Dogs,” starts the set with a sufficiently creamy, humid Cajun-Delta blues soundscape. It’s mellow & precise throughout. The vocals are definitely rooted in J.J. Cale’s riveting style & it’s done well.
First Set (Drops July 15–Horton) has many beautiful laid-back silky blues like “Can’t Wait Any Longer,” with its punctuating lap steel surrounded by steady drums & framed with slinky elan, balanced in the genre with finesse.
Some tunes could use more energy, but Morris’ vocalizing has expertise. He keeps it interesting despite some loss of steam. There are no slack tunes. Each is perfectly shaped to fit into the bluesy swampy banquet. The LP is not so much a collection of songs as music with an imaginative atmosphere. Morris (acoustic guitar) may have that Cale tone but how many singers do? He pulls it off with respect & the band adds their own signature machinations. It never gets wild; it soothes & stays within the boundaries of the genre.
This takes skill — I never felt by listening that the band was imitating J.J. Cale. Quite the contrary. It’s as if they’re taking Cale into the years he was denied by passing away too soon.
It’s easy to say Morris isn’t Cale. The songs don’t have the bite of J.J. Cale. But that doesn’t mean Morris isn’t delivering a credible performance, furthering a wonderful musical style with melodies that are gradients of the soul J.J. suggested.
There’s Ray Charles & there was room for Joe Cocker. There was Elvis & there was room for Johnny Burnette & Ral Donner. There is always a remarkable alternative. They may not have the ideal material, but they have good music & sure voice. Sometimes that’s enough to win applause. Morris has the songs & voice here to convince.
Down the line, they need to get edgier. This music tends to lay back at times & then it just becomes ordinary. But Morris is skillful, he has that Cale tradition from his “Grasshopper,” era more than J.J.’s “Cocaine,” “After Midnight,” era. But that doesn’t compromise the Science Project. The mood, groove & atmosphere — all consistent.
“Love Revolution,” is played with gusto but never slips into showboating. The generous 57-minute CD has a 2-song link for sampling on the Horton Records Bandcamp site.
Color image courtesy of the band’s Facebook. Purchase Tom Skinner’s Science Project music here @ https://hortonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/first-set