Glory be. An Eric Ambel album, only 12 years after the last one. To be fair Ambel (Roscoe to his friends) has been busy running his own bar in NY’s East Village (The Lakeside Lounge) while still producing a slew of artists for the past two decades. However his bar (and its famous jukebox) fell victim to rising rents and closed two years ago and it seems he’s had the time to come up with Lakeside and what a glorious rambling rock’n’roll creature it is.
A founding member of the Del-Lords and The Yayhoos, Ambel has also been the guitar slinger for Steve Earle and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts while various incarnations of his own Roscoe’s Gang have come and gone. As noted above he’s an in demand producer with the likes of The Bottle Rockets, blue Mountain, The Backsliders, Nils Lofgren, Cheri Knight and Mojo Nixon all benefiting from his skills. Above all however is the fact that he’s a huge fan of music and Lakeside is a tribute of sorts to his lost and lamented bar with Ambel telling The Bedford and Bowery webzine, “I was working on the record before I even understand that the record really was about the Lakeside. It took me a while to understand that. It was influenced by stuff we had on the jukebox. Our jukebox was really great, and it was just our soundtrack.”
It must have been some jukebox as the album is a firecracker of ten songs that positively crackle and burn. There is a variety of sorts on the disc, a revved up version of Barrett Strong’s Money with Ambel aping Jerry Lee’s Star Club rendition over a stone killer riff and a sweetly distorted guitar rhapsody on the closing Cryin’ In My Sleep that goes all Santos and Johnny on us. Ambel nails his colours to the mast with Hey Mr. DJ where he decries the habit of employing cheap DJ’s to replace live music. It opens with a huge T Rex like guitar surge before forging on like lava destroying all in its path. With corkscrew guitar solos and pummelling bass and drums he sings, “Hey Mr. DJ play another song like the one you just played. Crank the drums, crank the bass, crank that shit all over the place”.
Ambel’s Roscoe’s Gang have oft been compared to Neil Young and it’s true that here he still abides by the Crazy Horse bible, that side of Young which sounds like a bar band about to fall over having had too much to drink (think here of Barstool Blues and Lookin’ For A Love, both on Zuma). So we get Have Mercy which is pumped up with razor sharp guitars and Don’t Make Me Break You Down with its slow burning groove and low rumbled guitar solos that meander throughout amidst crashes of cymbals. Buyback Blues is another delve into that honey slide narcoleptic twilight zone that Young once inhabited and, turned up loud, it’s shiveringly unnerving with Ambel’s desperate voice recalling the misery and mystery of Peter Green in his heyday.
There’s also the Sun studio kissed rockabilly pop of Here Come My Love (which would give Nick Lowe a run for his money) and the wide sweep of Let’s Play With Fire which toys with country rock. Massive Confusion is a Ramones like thrash which is a rush from start to end (1:54 minutes so it fits into the Ramones time limit) and there’s a brief pause for breath on the cover of Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio which is amped up but slowly delivered over a solid drum beat with squirreling guitars eventually rising to a crescendo before collapsing into a Hendrix Hey Joe riff at the end.
Overall Lakeside is ridiculously brilliant. It brims with evil guitars and attitude and should be on any self respecting listener’s list. Absolutely recommended.