Cornelius Chapel Records
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There are connotations that accompany calling a rock record "simple." It implies dumb. It implies a lack of sophistication. It makes people wonder if it's coded language for "sounds just like Bachman–Turner Overdrive." But calling the Bohannons' fifth album Bloodroot simple is a compliment. It's a straight-ahead album that moves and rocks in a way that too many contemporary albums don't.
The Chattanooga-based quartet swirl together rock and country with vocals, courtesy of Marty Bohannon, that have a decidedly theatrical flair. The vocals move into Rocky Horror Picture Show/Meat Loaf territory, but the songs never sound cheesy. What's nice about Bloodroot is that it's different: a unique-sounding singer doing his thing alongside a band that moves with the determination of a train baring down on someone tied to the tracks.
The beautiful truth of Bloodroot is that while there's a natural tendency to pay attention to Bohannon's vocals, which are vulnerably manic, much like Cheap Trick's Robin Zander in his prime, many of the songs are driven by Mike Gaut's drums, which take up a lot of space in the mix, dutifully pulling songs along without making them feel like a march. Gaut brilliantly mixes responsible propulsion with exciting fills. This frees up Matt Bohannon's guitar to focus on textures and dust clouds of sound that similarly push the tracks along. The results are songs that are more complicated than garage rock, but less cerebral than Radiohead (a great band that made too many other bands feel like their music needed to be smarter).
Bloodroot is smart, though. It's just the kind of smart that's fun and natural. Like Amy Adams. There are some clever lyrical moments, such as in "Refills," a song about prescription addiction: "My baby's got a broken heart / My baby's got a script that fills / Where will she go?/ When she runs out of refills." It's a serious topic tempered by a sing-along chorus and some country music swagger. But it also feels light and effortless rather than overly intellectualized.
"My Dark Roots" is explosive and features lots of different song sections. It's anthemic and feels almost like a show tune, what with Bohannon's bold singing and the upbeat melody. But the song has a raggedness that keeps the track firmly in the rock world. The Bohannons have their own sound and it's cool to hear them mixing up different genres in ways that make for great songs, while not trying to bludgeon the listener with how clever they are.
Let's reclaim the term simple for rock & roll. Let's not make it a pejorative when a band is simply able to create something viscerally fun and easy to listen to. Let's use simple as the default standard for what rock & roll should be.
This is by no means a perfect album. The song "Cold Case," an ode to unsolved police cases, has a misplaced seriousness, as if the band is working to theme a CBS procedural. But despite small, normal missteps like this, Bloodroot is an album worth hearing from a charismatic front-person and a talented band.
Upon further review, it's not so much that the Bohannons make simple rock & roll. Their talent is in making the complex feel simple.
Notable Tracks: "Howler" | “My Dark Roots” | "Refills"