Thursday, December 6, 2012

Big Hat Makes Big Rock - Southern Style

Audley Freed and Peter Stroud have spent the last year bringing some serious rock and roll to Sheryl Crow's audiences, but they've also found some time to sneak off and make a great EP with their all-star side project, Big Hat, and it's the best four bucks you'll spend this December.

Keith Gattis is fronting the band, and along with the aforementioned guitar slingers, he's joined by the delightful Ike Stubblefield on the Hammond B-3, Skynyrd bassist Robert Kearns,  and drummer Fred Eltringham of The Wallflowers.

This EP is only four songs, but I'm sure it's a foretelling of a much grander scheme - at least I hope so after hearing it. The minute they rip into Delilah, you're hooked. The guitars are gloriously crunchy, and they have a rock and roll swagger that swings. This drips with a thick, syrupy dollop of the soul of Levon Helm. When Stroud and Freed careen into their brief harmony lead, it's all over. They're experienced enough to know that after that kind of outburst, one must breathe, and when Gattis comes in for the last verse he's accompanied by a sole acoustic and a basic beat, and the band eases back in like an old friend. I love the way both guitarists play great rhythm when the other pops off some fills - everyone here is playing their asses off, and showing their mastery of the form.

Feather In The Breeze is the best southern fried rock I've heard in some time - it makes me remember why I loved Skynyrd, Wet Willie, and the Allmans to begin with. They sound like they play for a living, they're no weekend warriors - this is what they do every day of their lives and it shows. The guitars are perfect - the tones are fat, sweet, and the playing is sublime. Please, let this be the beginning - I need to see this played live.

Slowing things down, The Light is an acoustic ballad, and Stubblefield's organ playing takes this one to church. He varies his parts, weaving wonderfully with soothing pads, and bright stabs - making me miss Billy Preston something fierce. Kearns and Eltringham sound like they've been playing together forever, taking turns at popping in a fill, or slide that catch the ear, and evoke a grin - sweet stuff.

Supersonic is the only way to close a show like this one - a rocker that is full of piss & vinegar. Some great slide guitar underpins things before a rear cocked wah announces a bit of death defying guitar gymnastics. Stroud and Freed aren't a good guitar team - they're great. Both play with abandonment, joy, and just enough restraint to keep it gentlemanly (and if you've ever shared the stage with another guitarist, take my word - it's not always easy).

Dan Boul, Peter Stroud, and 65amps
Less than twenty minutes and this is over way too soon, but I'll take it for now, and you should too. Like I said - it's $4 on iTunes, and these fellas have mouths to feed. If you buy it and don't like it, you should have your ears checked - this is a sizzingly great slice of rock and roll pie.

Special thanks to Dan Boul, Stroud's partner at 65amps for hipping me to this project. Talk about a fantastic endorsement for an amp company - these tones are fan-friggin'-tastic.

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