"The Mystery Spot"

(Small Stone)

01. The Mystery Spot
02. Ten Cent Dynamite
03. Call Me Down
04. Of Ditch Diggers and Drowning Men
05. Gin Clear
06. Rolling Thunder
07. Feed That Train
08. Keep Your Prize
09. Three Hearts
10. The Ballad of Sister Ruth
11. I Can't Shake It
12. Drag You There

RATING: 8/10

Slinky, sleazy blues-and-booze rock from the Rust Belt of the USA, lumped in with the stoner rock crowd because there's really nowhere else for 'em to get lumped (at least not until you all wise up and go buy some TENDERLOIN records). Ohio's prodigal drunks get a lot more love in Europe than they do here at home, mainly because there's a pretty good bunch of people on that side of the pond who appreciate sweaty, warts-and-all rock and roll delivered with heart and spit and a whole lot of smoke-choked vigor.

The big news this time out is the enlistment of CLUTCH drummer Jean-Paul Gaster for the studio sessions. Where previous basher Mike Alonso was a solid heavy-hitter, Gaster's propulsive and funky assault really gives the band a kick in the ass. Right from the opening measure, the title track cooks with percussive funk, a hot, greasy energy, and a little tricky time signature you just can't picture 'em trying with any previous skinsman. And check out Gaster going off the hook at the end of the righteous rocker "Ten Cent Dynamite", the "hit single" in a perfect world.

Elsewhere, "I Can't Shake It" and "Drag You There" dig deep into the band's record collections and prove that they know the blues — these songs throb with a primal urgency and a raucous juke-joint abandon, even as they flirt with Detroit proto-punk and murder-ballad doom, respectively. "Of Ditch Diggers and Drowning Men" is a bit of a surprise, a plaintive ballad that'd do an Allman Brother proud, showcasing guitarist Brad Coffin's world-weary, rough-hewn vocals. This song is one where a few subtle production choices – a hint of Hammond organ here, a touch of backing vocals there — really adds a new dimension to the record, putting FIVE HORSE JOHNSON in a new league, really.

FIVE HORSE JOHNSON are one of those bands for whom record store bin-card labels are as ill-fitting and useless as a corset on a rhino. Focus on the bluesier riffs and the harmonica, and you'll miss the seething, sardonic anger of the vocals in songs like "Gin Clear" and the soulful revival stomp of "Ditch Digger". Call 'em "stoner" and you trivialize the gloriously sleazy slide-guitar sludge of "Rolling Thunder" and the furious MOTORHEAD-gone-Mississippi avalanche that is "Feed That Train". Like their pals CLUTCH and so many of the best underground rock and roll bands currently sweating out the poison for the faithful few, FIVE HORSE stack their plates with the choicest bits from the whole damn rock and roll buffet, beholden to no one style, mashing it all up and letting it all hang out.

"The Mystery Spot" is a damn fine album, one worthy of a lot more of your support than it's gonna get. But who ever said rock and roll was a winning game?


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