A band’s choice of cover versions can usually be a good indicator of what the rest of an album might sound like. So midway through ‘Living Free’, the new album from New Jersey’s Colossal Street Jam, the familiar strains of Frankie Miller’s ‘Be Good To Yourself’ gave me a ‘eureka’ moment. For twenty or so minutes, I had been chewing over who Colossal Street Jam vocalist Gene Potts reminded me of, and then blam! Frankie who? Frankie f*****g Miller, that’s who… as the album sleeve from his ‘70’s compilation proudly exclaimed. Potts has the same powerful, gritty voice that any self respecting blues-rock vocalist had to have in the heady days of Free, Bad Company, The Small Faces, and of course, Scotland’s finest – Frankie Miller. Four starting points for what you might pick up from ‘Living Free’. Mix in some classic New Jersey rock n’ roll, and there you have Colossal Street Jam.
Start with the guitar. The guitar is key. Sal Marra lays down enough cool licks, and makes enough noise during the opening track ‘Won’t Last This Way’, that you end up doubting that there is only one dude playing. Likewise, the strutting guitar sound on the bluesier ‘Skies Above’ is exemplary. In places, the song has a Free ‘Fire And Water’ vibe going on, something that will always grab anyone’s attention. Instead of playing it safe with a by-the-numbers blues-rock standard, they mix it up by changing tempo throughout, and it develops into a full on jam. The rhythms from bassist Tony Flora and Dave Halpern on the skins are quite subliminal. Nothing overly fussy, just clean and precise as they should be, and certainly make their mark. Potts has a warm, natural voice. I can imagine him sitting at the bar… someone shouts “Dude, you’re up”. He finishes his beer, then makes his way on stage. However, the secret weapon is the luscious keyboards of Eric Safka. Dude, you had me at Hammond. Add a Hammond organ to any track, and instantly it rises a level or three. Safka is all over it. Damn, it’s a fine sound. The highlight of the album is the beautiful ‘Songbird’, a great mix of soft acoustic guitar and dreamy electric solos that soar high when they come in. The vocals from Potts are quiet and understated, but the last few moments see him ramp it up, hinting at what’s to come.
The one-two of ‘Hanging Around’ and the aforementioned ‘Be Good To Yourself’ highlight the importance of pacing on an album. The blues rock of ‘Hanging Around’ features some stunning guitar work from Sal Marra, who continues to impress throughout… and then it’s Miller time. ’Be Good To Yourself’ could have been written with today’s turbulent times in mind, but it wasn’t. In the decades since it was released, I have witnessed some pretty bog standard covers, but Potts totally nails it with the same grit, and the same fire in his voice as Frankie himself. This continues into ‘Monday Morning Mass’, which musically, has a Zeppelin thread running through it. ‘I Can’t Take It’ is more funky, whereas ‘Let It Go’ is a cheeky little number with some honky tonk piano from Safka. The band finish the album with a live number, ‘Sweet Little Lady’, recorded at the famous Stone Pony in Asbury Park. It don’t matter a hill of beans if a band can’t cut it live, and this six minute extended jam is proof indeed that these guys can cut the mustard. That Hammond though… Christ, it’s massive!
‘Living Free’ is perfect for those that have a hankering for some classic blues based rock n’ roll. It’s available now, with more information on Facebook.
Review: Dave Stott