It’s been a good few weeks for East Texans, Blacktop Mojo. They opened for Bon Jovi (after winning a contest on lil Jon’s website), the video for their cover of ‘Dream On’ hit 1M likes on YouTube, and Classic Rock magazine said that they “might just be the next big American rock band”… not too shabby, as praise goes. The boys from Palestine… no, the other one (finally slipped a Die Hard reference in! Life goals!), are riding on a crest of glowing reviews, and not-so-quietly building up a head of steam. Sophomore album, ‘Burn The Ships’ is beginning to make people sit up and notice in a way that the American rock scene has perhaps lacked since the early days of Alter Bridge. A band playing what could be perceived as classic hard rock with a modern day twist. Crunching sludgy riffs, anthemic hooks, and a ballad or two for the suits at drivetime radiBeginning with a short southern acoustic guitar intro, opening track, ‘Where The Wind Blows’ soon settles into four minutes of crushing riffs and pounding beats. Almost grunge in its execution, but at the same time, it displays a post grunge groove missing from the golden days of Seattle. The lead guitar work from Ryan Kiefer is top notch as he lets fly on his solos. Impressive stuff. The banjo-like picking towards the end is a nice nod towards the band’s Southern roots. ‘End Of Days’ crushes like a rampaging rhino, as does the title track, which is all about the drum sound from Nathan Gillis. Simply massive. Bassist, Matt Curtis, gets his moment in the spotlight with a few chunky bass fills, as he also does on ‘8000 Lines’. Good work, fella. Listen to the song a few times, and you might pick up a few influences. I heard classic Black Sabbath jams towards the end, coupled with Iommi-sized riffs. 15 minutes into the album, and it’s clear to see how important the guitars are to Blacktop Mojo, from the skull crushing riffs of Ryan Kiefer, to the vital rhythms from Kenneth Irwin.
The tempo slows down a notch on a few occasions, namely; ‘Prodigal’, ‘Make A Difference’ (complete with trippy guitars in the background), and ‘Underneath’, which all retain a bite, despite the change of pace. The middle of the album is chock-full of sludgy riffs (‘Sweat’), slow-building head bangers (‘Pyromainac’) and the swampy bruiser that is ‘Dog On A Leash’. The cover of ‘Dream On’, I touched on earlier. 1 million views on YouTube? Unbelievable that a fledgling band can get those numbers, but when you hear how good the cover is, then maybe not quite as unbelievable. Taking on Aerosmith is ballsy enough, but bypassing ‘Walk This Way’ or ‘Sweet Emotion’ for the ultimate power ballad displays cajones of King Kong proportions. Sweet baby Jesus, these guys nail it… no massive changes or reimagining, just a faithful version of a bonafide classic. First listen, I’m curious to see wether or not vocalist Matt James could hit the high notes towards the end, the glass-shattering notes where Steven Tyler makes the hairs stand on end. Well cover me in honey and throw me on the grill, the boy knocks it out of the park! Totally, totally nails it. Job. Fucking. Done. Best cover of an Aerosmith song, period. The flipside of this is the risk that ‘Burn The Ships’, and in turn, Blacktop Mojo, will be defined by a cover. That risk evaporates with each listen of the album. There is more than enough bangers on ‘Burn The Ships’ to ensure that ‘Dream On’ is merely the icing on the cake.
The next few steps for Blacktop Mojo will be crucial in building on the momentum that’s gathering. Live dates are a must, and getting them on “classic rock Sunday” at Download in June is another.
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Review: Dave Stott