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Five Horse Johnson | No 6 Dance | review | rock | Lollipop
Five Horse Johnson
The No. 6 Dance (Small Stone)
by Brian Varney
With this, their fourth full-length, these Toledo boys are now officially rock'n'roll royalty. As of today, this minute, right now, Five Horse Johnson are the finest rock'n'roll band in America. ZZ Top are probably my favorite band of all time and I still play their first five albums on a weekly basis, and Five Horse Johnson is the only band I've found who can make a week without spinning those LPs seem OK.
Five Horse Johnson don't sound like ZZ Top, but I don't think it'd be unfair to assume that Rio Grande Mud has done a fair tour of duty in these guys' homes. More than a specific style of playing, what Five Horse Johnson take from ZZ Top is the sleazy fluidity which I suppose is what makes me keep playing those records over and over. Lead vocalist/harmonica player Eric Oblander sings like he's got a belly full of rotgut and he plays harmonica like he's much older and much less white than he is. Guitarist Brad Coffin's playing suggests a neck and frets smeared with barbeque sauce, and the rhythm section is only slightly less tight than a duck's ass. A crack fucking band, in other words.
And yeah, the singer plays harmonica, so you might be thinking "blues rock" and, as is the usual reaction to such music, start getting dressed for bed, but hold up... Yeah, there's a lotta blues flavor to what these guys lay down, but there's no 12-bar autopilot to be had in these grooves (and here's where the ZZ Top thing really comes to a head), just a lot of pummeling rock songs which preserve the sleaze of electric Chicago blues. Check out the songs "Silver" or "Lollipop" to see what I mean. This won't bore you to tears like your typical blues rock: It'll just make you wanna pour a few beers down your head and start shakin' your ass.
And then there's the album's final track, "Odella." I said earlier that these guys avoid the straight 12-bar thing, so I guess I sorta lied. This is something else, though. "Odella" is something much darker, more sinister, and altogether fucking brilliant. It's not blues rock, it's blues. Over a simple, ominous blues figure which is repeated without variance for the song's fourteen and a half minutes, Oblander gives a tour de force performance, moaning incomprehensibly and blowing an exorcism through his harmonica while guest axeman Billy Reedy tears it up for the duration. It should be boring as hell, and it certainly would be in less capable hands, but in these beer-sodden mitts it becomes something much more like a "When the Levee Breaks" for the new century. Yeah, I know that sounds ridiculous, but when confronted with the power of the song itself, I can do nothing but sit in slack-jawed amazement. I've played "Odella" at least once a day for the couple of weeks I've had the album and all I can say at this point is that it's far, far too short.
Ditto the album. Buy this, buy all of their albums (and, while you're at it, check out the other finery Small Stone has to offer), go see them live and buy them beer, mow their lawns, do their laundry; whatever you need to do to feel you've repaid your debt to the rock they have so generously brought forth.
(PO Box 007 Detroit, MI 48202)