Released: 2006, Small Stone Records
It’s safe to say that cult blues-rock veterans Five Horse Johnson have been around the block a few times over the course of their career. Now spanning six albums and slightly over 10 years treading the boards, these down-home Ohio boys no doubt carry the scars of authenticity. The latest scar is the loss of former drummer Mike Alonso who departed prior to the recording of the new album. Filling in more than capably on drums is none other than Clutch’s skin-killer, Jean Paul Gaster (!). That’s quite a coup for the Johnsons, as Gaster has long been one of the more skilled but unheralded drummers in heavy music.
Musically, nothing much has changed since 2003’s THE LAST MEN ON EARTH. Five Horse Johnson is still about blues-infected heavy rock that sounds as if it fell asleep in a Louisiana swamp in 1974, woke up in 1995 and said, “Fuck it! I’m still gonna play music my way!”, and then proceeded to blow the hell out of all of the “retro” pretenders to the throne. Sure, familiarity might be a weakness in the music, but the sheer quality of it more than makes up for it.
The dual vocals of Brad Coffin and Eric Oblander lead the charge into the dirty swamps of “The Mystery Spot” and the rockin’ chair blues story tellin’ of “Of Ditch Diggers and Drowning Men”. The sound of the album appropriately matches the down-home subject matter, all gritty and slightly fuzzy, but clear enough to highlight the excellent work of all the players. Authenticity like that cannot be faked.
While THE MYSTERY SPOT didn’t quite blow me away (a little too comfortable), it is a damn fine album all the same. After a decade in the biz, Five Horse Johnson has earned everything that’s come their way. Here’s hoping their profile is raised even higher with this release.