“BLACKTOP MOJO” BURN THE SHIPS CD-REVIEW
“BY SHERRI BIRD”
We’ve heard it on a global scale “Rock & Roll is dead!!” Rock stars have been saying it for years, hell I even said it a few years ago and pissed off a WHOLE bunch of people!
And I almost bought into that statement…almost.
Fast forward to October of 2016, I was forwarded a YouTube video of a band doing a cover of “Dream On” by AEROSMITH and honestly did not open the email let alone click PLAY to watch it. Don’t grumble at my next statement – well, you can but I assure you 1) I can’t hear you 2) I’ve already been given all the shit possible for what I’m about to say and 3) I literally give zero fucks what you think…I don’t like AEROSMITH. Never have, and frankly I probably won’t ever be a fan. I respect the hell out of the band and their place in history. I just never liked them, wasn’t my bag. And no, STEVEN TYLER never tickled my fancy.
Divinely inspired, I think that’s what they call shit like this when it happens. And if you believe in God or the vast power of the Universe like I do, then Divine it shall be. See, when I finally clicked the play button and saw this dude with a beard and a backwards baseball hat on singing what I couldn’t tell at first if he was for real or if this was a play by the opposite of God to foil me into liking AEROSMITH. As I listened though something else was happening. I seriously said, “Holy shit – this dude is going to bring rock back!” I didn’t know at the time it was a full band, didn’t know anything but what I was seeing in front of my face. But what I saw and heard, not only made me have goose skin from the top of my scalp to the tips of my toes – and I’m not joking when I say that I had goose bumps ev-a-ree-where…I got down on my knees and thanked the holy grail for this glimpse or glimmer of light that I saw. I knew that this BLACKTOP MOJO band would be one of those artists I thought had died with the bullshit that was the fabric of my youth. I was again a Believer – hallelujah!!
The band I saw is BLACKTOP MOJO as I came to find out after watching a few dozen times and they were from Texas – just a few miles down the interstate from Dallas. I immediately became obsessed with their new record that came out early March, “BURN THE SHIPS”. I am quite fond of their honest and Texas good-ole-boy attitude to everything they do. I even allow them to call me “ma’am” because it’s so genuine, I can’t correct them or convince them that I’m not anywhere near “ma’am” status.
Here is my review of, BURN THE SHIPS released March 10, 2017 as an independent release. As of today, August 7, 2017 the single release “BURN THE SHIPS” is currently ranked #30 on the Billboard Top 40. This is unheard of for an independent, unsigned band and THIS is the reason that Rock & Roll is NOT Dead. It’s true because there’s a # that says it’s true. #truth #rockisnotdead
WHERE THE WIND BLOWS – feels like you’re about to take a trip out in the country where they play bluesy rock on the porch with banjos, one of those key things that you play with your mouth. And then you instantly find yourself with the windows down, sun shining on your face, hair blowing in the wind on a lonesome road running from, or to – something that is paramount. The percussion in this track not only fuels the time but fuels the foundation of this track for the greatness that is Texas rock built upon it. Matt’s vocals instantly put you in a “fuck it, let’s do it” mood.
END OF DAYS – jab me with a syringe full of adrenaline right in my chest. Where does this sound come from? Where does the band pull this shit out of? The guitar solos are rad, the bass line is thick, and there are some surprises coming out of Matt’s mouth that will send those goosebumps running down your body full force. If the End is happening, I want this song to be playing LOUD AF!! Even if fire is shooting up and chunks of reality fall down…who gives a shit if it’s all ending, as long as I have this feeling, I don’t give AF!! #bringit
BURN THE SHIPS – I love the bass in this song! The mini-solo and trills down that sexy ass bass neck make me want to punch…myself – wait. Nah…it’s just the precursor to the macabre that is the last 45 seconds of the title track. It’s fused with a tempo that truly makes you think you’re running with one of those torch sticks set on fire, ya know the ones? Ya, those that you see in movies like Planet of the Apes, that just stay lit and never burn down…why is that? Anyway – and as you’re running, in slow motion mind you, getting ready to set fire to whatever is in your path – those little embers are flying off and up into the air – ya feel me? Hell yes you do – and you’re just about to touch the flame to the ship when the song ends abruptly but it’s not the end of the story. That is yours to create – as many times as you want to.
PRODIGAL – I am almost positive that someone sold their soul to some underworld prince of something; fire, lava – something – because literally this song melts those iron, inside parts that keep me from achieving what I’m supposed to. Really. This song is about doing life your way, on your own, with no blame or judgement from anything. PRODIGAL is an anthem that calls us all in a very spiritual way to unchain yourself, the limits you put on yourself – because one day we won’t be able to unroot ourselves. What we wanted to do or to achieve – won’t be possible because we’ve limited ourselves to thinking we couldn’t, they won’t let us, we’re not good enough, can’t be that or do that – and the thought that we have to come back because we failed makes us the Prodigal. If we come back, we need to realize it’s because we wanted to regroup or gain our strength to set out again. Not because we had to. Look, I can’t tell you the story behind this song. I don’t know it yet, and honestly – I don’t want to know. What I want to know or be reassured of, is that I have learned this lesson finally – and that I won’t repeat it again. Because if we didn’t – then there isn’t any more than “this”. And I really refuse to believe this, don’t you? Musically, “Prodigal” is written with crescendos and decrescendos to purposefully stab you in the gut with the notes that simultaneously make you drop to your knees. The drums are so perfect that you only notice them when you feel that your heart might stop – they revive you. They jolt you with a solemness that only the individual recognizes as a calling or that innate purpose that each of us has to find alone and that is the prodigy for each of us to identify with and come to terms with.
SHADOWS ON THE WALL – this track is not easy to define with words. It’s almost an entire source of energy because it doesn’t follow a common structure. Progressing through the 5 minutes of this song, if you’re in any kind of emotional turmoil is taxing but necessary just like the turmoil itself is, in fact, necessary. I mean, picture a dark room where you’re watching various sources of light flicker and dance on the darkness of the walls. Guitar twangs butt in, interrupting almost and steer you down a journey filled with hard beats and chunky plunks of rhythm that are dangled here and there. The low note’s vibrational pattern stroll you to the highs and shoot you back down over and over while you scoop up what you’re meant to feel from listening. And the power riff of the bridge-like chorus compliments that bass line…and all the while, what’s coming out of your mind is hooked into Matt’s vocals, pulling you to the conclusion that ends up making you question yourself because it is all you know. What you know is what you know and that won’t change unless you come off the wall – unless you step off the wall and become the light. Matt’s voice is radiant in this track; powerful, convicting and downright archangelic.
SWEAT – like anthems of hard working Americans from other generations, this tune is one for this generation. It’s gritty, rough, and sexy AF. This is not a song for our metro-men out there unless they do hard labor on the weekends in the yard or something. There is a guitar tone buried in the mix that is rad AF – it may be a bass even – whatever it is, I dig it. If it were the only tone, it would be offensive – but it makes the song even more manly or full of brawn and girth. I love the cadence of the lyric “if sweat were money, I’d be a millionaire”. Matt sings this song like a pro and I love the story he tells with the perfection of his tone and pitch. The guitar solo is again, a perfect spread for Matt to come in and belt that last part out with the force of a charging linebacker after the snap.
PYROMANIAC – released as the single, this song is a sludgy, rock and roll mantra that will cause anything to explode that it’s played out of. The marriage of Matt’s vocals and the tone of the guitars gets us ready for this supercharged remainder of the song. The repetitive beat is stirring and totally energetic to the whole song. Where does this powerful voice come from, on a side note? I mean I’m dumbfounded with Matt’s raw ability to extend a note effortlessly and keep the pitch as steady as a sober man’s hand. It swells up like the breath going in a balloon and you can hear the angst behind the breath and strains that make this song oh so sultry. This song is a true testament that Blacktop Mojo can write songs that are complementary of all members in the band. There isn’t a part that is uncomfortable or out of place – and this can be said for all of the songs on the record. I love the way the song ends too.
8000 LINES – ooo la la – this track begins with the low purr of the bass and then it just sends you into orbit at the chorus with the slow pang of a guitar that carries the vocal through the chorus, and rockets you into this other dimension of the song like the realm that is just underneath the beginning. Tribal or nordic in nature with acoustic guitar and a throck of drums the brilliance of this part of the song is that it really does give the listener the essence of a dream simultaneously happening and then being shocked back into consciousness by those same things that put you under it.
DOG ON A LEASH – this is a raspy and sticky little number that has just enough resentment to make you pay attention. (Not gonna lie, makes me want to tag a couple of people in a digital social media post…lalala…) The bluesy roots are sticking out of the ground with this track but you have these insane vocals that keep it rock. Not to mention, being weighted down by some freakishly phenomenal guitar parts that I swear are conjured up straight out of the late 1970’s. I like what this song stands for too. No one needs to be a dog on a leash and if you are, then better bite through that f’er and run far, far away…
MAKE A DIFFERENCE – when listening to this track, at first there is a sense of ordinary about it. Don’t get me wrong we’re talking ordinary as in ordinary for a rock song that is included on a platinum record, ordinary. Enter the chorus and you realize it is anything but…see this band’s gift of hooking a listener doesn’t just come from one piece of the band. It’s happens simultaneously. I mean, this is a slower song by tempo – but it’s not light by any means. That gift I’m referring to, is evident in almost every measure of this song. The marriage of guitars, bass, percussion is a blissfully sweet homemade yellow cake (only because yellow is my favorite cake). Then, add the vocal – man…that is just the icing on the top.
CHAINS – heavy from the start it’s nothing short of the track you crank up louder. You know what I’m talking about? The beat of the song is what grabbed me at first. Kinda like watching a heavyweight boxing match, you know someone’s about to get knocked the fuck out, right? This track is like being in the ring with a fighter – you start off knowing a punch is going to be thrown and it’s either going to be you or them. Turns out – it’s them because that chorus is massive, y’all. It socked me in the gut and continued full force til I finally gave in and by the end, I was chasing it around the ring! “Chains” is my anthem when I want to be heard and when I want to fight for something – I want this song to be playing in the background.
DREAM ON – Let’s be honest. Who isn’t tired of hearing this song? Ask that question before I heard Blacktop Mojo’s version and I would have been the first to answer “Me!!”. To be fair, I’ve never been a huge Aerosmith fan. Don’t hate, y’all…I mean I respect the fuck out them. I didn’t grow up with them…so it’s not that I didn’t like them, they’re just not my bag. Then, I heard this song or saw the video. I don’t know guys, I’m familiar with the song because it’s old AF. But I don’t know much about the structure of the original – but in all honesty, – who gives a shit about who did the original, how it’s different, how it’s the same, if Matt sounds like Tyler or if he doesn’t. It doesn’t matter. For me, this song brought me to my knees. Literally. And even now, when I hear it I get goosebumps. Not just on my arms. Not the ones that travel like up or down your legs when it’s really good. The reaction is instantly physically overpowering at the chorus. And continues through the rest of the song. My entire being has those fucking annoying bumps. Like on my FACE, y’all. It’s crazy. For me, that only happens when truly miraculous shit is going down. This isn’t a cover anymore. This isn’t about the original band that did it first or whose version is better. Fuck that. Blacktop Mojo has taken this song and made it their own. I could listen to this over and over (and did from last October until I got wind of their new stuff). If this song isn’t empirical evidence that these guys have what only one out of maybe 10,000 bands have, I don’t know what is.
UNDERNEATH – What can I say about this song, but that it’s perfect. Its melody is heartfelt and lyrically is a poetic storm. It connects anyone that has experienced pain; I don’t care what kind of pain we’re talking about – people connect with their similarities and well, what lies beneath. The notes from the acoustic just drop in the middle, between my ears slowly and open up some of those locked boxes of bullshit I don’t want to deal with. And while Matt sings and the memories that come out of those places I’ve locked up, I realize that the pain that is his, is mine too. And as the tears blop down on my blue sweatshirt and roll down my cheek; I just listen to the song and the cold air coming out of the vent near where I’m sitting. I’m just still and I let myself, for a minute just feel it all.
Til Next Time – MRML
Cherri Bird is an independent, but selective rock journalist and photographer from Dallas, Texas and an avid supporter of the Nu-Media Movement in the music industry. Co-Founder of The Bird’s Nest; a place to call home for rock journalists as well as a source for content for music outlets that support and promote rock music, for the purpose of creating a deeper connection between fans and bands. Follow her along with over 6,000 fans on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thecherribird
CHERRI BIRD / MHF Magazine