Dead Rock West. Bright Morning Stars.

The chattering classes may have been well impressed by Tom Jones and his recent “gospel” album however for an education on how to marry rock with gospel here’s a primer that swings and wails with a holy rolling beat.
Dead Rock West are currently a duo consisting of Cindy Wasserman and Frank Lee Drennan. Their debut album Honey and Salt was a mixture of LA rock with rootsy Americana and evidenced a strong X influence. Here they take this one step further with X members John Doe and Exene Cervenka helping out on vocals on several songs and D. J. Bonebrake on drums throughout. Digging into old time spiritual songs the duo eventually decided to “get back to the simplicity of life by connecting with the source.” Their masterstroke was to enlist Peter Case as producer and as anyone who has heard his latest album Wig would testify Case is a master at rootsy American music. In addition Case plays guitar and adds vocals on several songs. In the main however guitar duties are handled by Ron Franklin who impresses mightily on the opening song Ain’t No Grave and throughout the disc.
From the onset the scrubbed guitar and pounding drums on Ain’t No Grave bode well with Doe duetting with Wasserman on a song that can’t avoid comparison with latter day X. However it’s a tremendous curtain raiser, all fire and brimstone with the band stoking the fire as if their lives depended on it. The rhythm section are on fire all through this album with Bonebrake sounding like a freight train, pummelling, barrelling and firing on all cylinders. It’s a brave move putting such a tour de force at the beginning of an album but believe it or not there are several other gems that match it. Second song, God Moves On Water has a Bo Diddley beat that hypnotises the listener with enough clatter and clutter in the engine room guitars to satisfy anyone who misses Ry Cooder’s forays into this genre. Overall this is like listening to a hi octane version of the Robert Plant /Alison Krauss album. The infectious gospel harmonies, shuffled beat and stinging guitar of Two Wings are straight from the Staple Singers stable and one is left wondering how, after this tremendous opening trio of songs Dead Rock West can better this. The answer is that they don’t but for the most part they maintain a firm hand on the tiller with several other songs that are on a par with these. Wings of Angels has Mark Olson (Jayhawks) singing with Wasserman on a fine spiritual stomp while Tell The Angels and This Might Be The Last Time are stone cold solid updates on spiritual gospel with glorious harmonising and dread filled backing all in place. The production here is perfect with gutbucket bass and drums thudding away while the guitars and organ speak in tongues.
A surprising rendition of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s God Help Me fits well into the overall feel of the album and even has a touch of their signature feedback guitar noise but the rendition of Case’s Beyond The Blues smacks perhaps of hubris on the part of the producer. While it’s given a fine telling it does seem slightly out of place here and the album would not be any the less for its omission.
Overall a tremendous piece of work that carries on the work that the likes of Cooder, Plant and Krauss or even Woven hand do. Dead Rock West are in Glasgow on March 8 at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, maybe a fine night.

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Dead Rock West- Two Wings by paulk

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