As a preview of an upcoming full-length album Side One paints a sunny picture on the horizon for California bluesman Johnny Stachela and his energetic band. Clocking in at a brief four songs, the live tracked, analogue-recorded EP finds the trio ripping through a combination of classic sounding blues riffs with a fresh rock mentality and easy virtuosity coming from all corners.
Opening with ripping, crunchy guitar and a full, warm sound, the track “Handle it” sets the tone and the pacing for the album, with all members taking moments to shine without showing off. The song swings between swaying guitar riffs and extended solos with the vocals, bass and drums creating an expansive and driving sound that feels like more than just the sum of three parts. The next track “Firefly” is an instrumental number that puts the rhythm section up front, maintaining the pace of the album and again providing a solid platform for Stachela to crunch his way through guitar riffs on. “Weight of Your World” opens with a riff a bit like The Police's “Roxanne” before cutting to a vocal track delivered with a dry, dessert monotone akin to Queens of the Stone Age. It's the most straightforward rock track of the four, demonstrating the flexibility of the band to branch beyond the smoky confines of blues-rock.
That said, the band does sound phenomenal when they plant themselves comfortably within the realm of classic blues-rock, as they do on the final track “Automatic Pistol.” The song carries strong ZZ Top vibes and, in addition to the great chugging guitar line, features vocals with just enough distortion on them to really add to the thick, dripping rock n’ roll.
The entire album was recorded live onto 2” tape—and then mixed onto 1/4” tape. I'd challenge anybody who doesn't fully appreciate the merits of classic analogue recording styles to listen to this EP. It's warm, it's full, it's fuzzy around the edges and crackles slightly in the center. It's not only recorded live, but really does feel like a live creature, a beast of its own volition. Furthermore, the live recording is a high-risk, high-reward way to make an album—but when it pays off, as it does here, it allows for awesome levels of compounding improvisational moments. The record was expertly mixed at Jorgen Carlsson's Rogers Boat Studio where it was recorded and mastered by Steve Holroyd.
Ultimately Side One is not only a great little EP, but an exciting preview of the Johnny Stachela Band's forthcoming full-length. In four songs the band demonstrates a range of expertise within a fairly concise field. The album is on point and coherent—very much within their genre—but also showcases an ability to excel at both modern indie/alternative rock sound as easily as classic, tried and true blues-rock style. Toss in both the live energy of the performance and the living nature of the recording medium and you've got yourself a pretty enjoyable album.
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