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Where the boogie never dies

Keep It Greasy! by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell

You can’t outrun your influences, and you can’t ever pretend that the music that first made you sit up and take notice isn’t going to greatly effect what you see as good music forever afterward.

I grew up in the suburbs of a dying Midwestern behemoth of a city, Detroit, in the ‘70s, and that means I grew up in the era of rock ‘n’ roll when the guitar riff, and the guitar solo, were of ultimate importance.

Black Sabbath. Led Zeppelin. Ted Nugent. Jethro Tull. Grand Funk. Cream. MC5. ZZ Top. Thin Lizzy. Jimi Hendrix. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Sure, there was plenty of other stuff that both at the time and later that I grew to love – everyone from Bob Dylan to Stevie Wonder to the Clash to the Velvet Underground to Prince – but what the hell, some things never change: I don’t listen to a lot of rock ‘n’ roll any more, but give me a loud song with a big, nasty guitar riff and I’m a happy guy.

I’m not proud of it, necessarily, but whatever. Sue me.

If you’re like me, and you want to hear some new music that sounds like the above old music, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, a trio from England, keep up this fine tradition and try their damndest to look and sound like it’s, say, 1972 again, and always will be.

Named after a British naval officer, and sporting an angry red bird mascot that pops up on their CD covers and videos – unlike Iron Maiden’s monster Eddie, he appears to not have a name – the band (led by vocalist/guitarist Johnny Gorilla) plays a raunchy, boogie-blues-meets-proto-metal type of sweaty retro-rock that sounds like a stew of several bands, from the Five to early Motorhead to Sabbath (lots and lots of Sabbath) to Budgie to the Groundhogs, plus a slew of more obscure acts that made at least a few albums during the same era but never got nearly as popular, including Sir Lord Baltimore, Toad, Buffalo, Incredible Hog, and Bang – with a little glam-rock a la Sweet and Slade on the side.

There are a whole lot of younger bands – and fans – who revere this amp-frying stuff, in part because these lesser-known band genuinely made some good music (if you want to investigate further, I’d start with the debuts by Baltimore, Toad, Incredible Hog and Buffalo) and in part because they were fairly obscure. To appreciate them (or, in the case of the Shovell and similar bands, several of which are on Rise Above Records, to be them) is to be part of a sort of underground metal society, guys who still love ye olde massive guitar riff, ye olde showoff guitar solo, ye olde fuzzy bass sound, ye olde thudding rhythm section, and ye olde, well, everything, from bellbottoms to leather jackets to facial hair to imagining oneself living life in a stinky van while going from gig to gig to gig.

The Shovell is at or near the top of this particular denim-clad, cowbell-smacking heap, and their third CD, the just released Keep It Greasy!, is all loud ‘n’ proud boogie, hoarse vocals, deep ‘n’ fuzzy bass, and guitar solos. To listen to this stuff is to hear music that simply does not acknowledge that anything recorded after, say, Motorhead’s second LP ever existed. You get a little glam-metal with the opening U Got Wot I Need, but most of the time the group bows at the altar of the Groundhogs, Motorhead, Sabbath and Budgie: there’s usually one big riff per song, lyrics about rocking out, the endless rock ‘n’ roll road, and partying, and plenty of soloing.

There is some filler – including Hairy Brain Pt. 2 and I’m Movin’ – and there is no doubt that the band’s second CD, 2014’s Check ‘Em Before You Wreck ‘Em, is a better record – sharper songs and solos, better production – and a better introduction to what the band has to offer. But Greasy is pretty endearing most of the time, especially on Hawkline Monster, a stomping retelling of Richard Brautigan’s strange 1974 Western (see, these guys don’t even read books that were released since Gerald Ford was in office!); the rampaging Tired ‘n’ Wired; and the concluding Motohead-meets-Sabbath Wrong.

As I say, if I were looking for a gateway CD to what Gorilla and his pals have to offer, I’d choose Check ‘Em. But if you’re already a fan, you’ll probably be satisfied by Greasy!, especially after repeated listenings. You might even wish, for a moment, that it really was 1973 again and, in that vastly more innocent world, all you had to worry about was scoring tickets the next time Sabbath was going on tour. Sometimes it’s fun to go back there, if only for a few minutes and at high volume, and this CD is one of those times.