Blabber’n’Smoke liked Canadian Brock Zeman‘s last offering, Me Then You back in 2012 with its taut and sinewy rock with a hint of blue collar Steve Earle in the tales it told. We also noted his production and playing on the magnificently doomed Tom House released on Zeman’s label, Mud Records. Now he’s back with Rotten Tooth, an eleven song self penned collection which, while no great departure from its predecessor other than a hint of influence from the boho bawling of Tom Waits which colours a few of the numbers, Zeman himself says
“I learned an awful lot from recording Nashville singer/songwriter Tom House over the last few years and it’s led me to some unexpected places and given me some brand new eyes and ears.”
House’s album was a frank journey into a booze driven American underbelly and it may be that his words have spurred Zeman into being somewhat more visceral on some of his songs, most notably the opening title song which starts off with a sample of a dental instruction on how to extract a tooth. Pretty soon Zeman growls into view over a savage acoustic blues riff before the band hammers in. Gnarly as hell Zeman sings
“I’m the only rotten tooth in my family’s mouth/Take more than pliers just to pull me out/I’m on the shady side of my family tree/That crooked little branch that wouldn’t grow straight
The little grease fire that you can’t put out/Ya, I’m the only rotten tooth in my family’s mouth/Black clouds fill the sky wherever I travel/My footsteps sound like a judge’s gavel/
Hell spit me out and heaven don’t want me/Because I’m mean as a rattlesnake and twice as ugly/Won’t you write this on my stone before they lay me down/That I’m the only rotten tooth in my family’s mouth.”
OK, there’s a thousand songs out there about black sheep but Zeman delivers this with a ferocity that is breathtaking and it’s begging to be placed on the credits of some hillbilly murdering tale on HBO. Zeman runs with this bad blood throughout the album. Neighbour fights, murder, the Lord’s retribution all feature with Zeman and guitarist Blair Hogan playing some fine gutbucket blues. This grimness is leavened musically with some songs delivered in a lighter style with cello employed on occasion such as on the convoluted murder ballad Where Words Mean Nothing as the vaulting tune belies the blood stained lyrics. Overall we’re looking at Americana Noire.
The Waits influence is at its height on two songs. Dreamland Motel is a wordy squall describing the titular no star abode
“I ain’t ever stayed in a place like this before/The toilet is talking to the sink about the blood on the floor/And if I make it through the night I swear on my skin/That it’s Travel Lodge baby from now on in.”
Sending Strange Weather takes the Waits’ model and adds some Jim White to the mix as Zeman warns of the coming Apocalypse with hoodoo guitar and strangled voices. It’s a tremendous cut and with songs like these Zeman deserves to be better known. Suffice to say that if you think Robert Mitchum’s Rev. Harry Powell could strap on a guitar then this might be an album he would make.