Cowbell: Beat Stampede (Damaged Goods)
Pete Bennett finds much to praise in the new Cowbell album. Their particular brand of garage rock seems to have struck a real chord with him. Read on.
Fans of garage rock in north-east London will be more than aware of the steady rise of garage/blues/soul duo Cowbell.
Now, after releasing three 7â singles, along the way gaining stamps of approval from most of Radio 2 & 6, and a summer of sessions spent at analogue studio Gizzard, they are releasing their dÃ©but album: on vinyl and, fittingly, through legendary east-end label, Damaged Goods.
Fronted by Jack Sandham who, after serving apprenticeship in bluesy indie rockers Great Bear, was heading for a more rootsy, solo career, until a chance request for a jam from untested drummer Wednesday Lyle convinced him that raw guitar, soulful vocals and pounding kit was the way forward. Lucky for us she did. Cowbell have managed to come up with a collection of songs that combine the melodic savvy of R’n’B with transatlantic raw garage, in such a way as to mix a sonic cocktail that is unshakeably their own.
Hard-hitting, bold, but as buzzy as proper Rock ‘n’ Roll should ever be, the music thrills to its influences: Stax, Motown, Mississippi blues, The Zombies, with The Troggs filtering through. Taking a cue from the White and Auerbach approach, in showing that retro guitars and vintage gear doesn’t necessarily mean being out of time, it deftly sidesteps the pitfalls and clichÃ©s of the genre past and present. By way of gifted phrasing and clever songwriting, combined with the kind of innocent love affair with 50s R’n’B, that Ray Davies would approve of.
What we are presented with are ten tracks, all lovingly crafted to tape through vintage recording equipment, which journey us through the band’s subtle changes in direction, exploration and approach since their conception in 2009. Opener ‘Tallulah’, live favourite and most recent single, is a pure pop paean to the archetypal ‘girl’ that becomes the kind of glorious, dumbly hummable mantra in the way that has made The Kingsmen’s ‘Louie Louie’ so grinningly repeatable by every generation that has stumbled upon it. ‘Hanging By a Thread’, Sam Cooke-esque soulful pop inviting replay after replay, shows a lighter side of the band daring to emerge from the album’s crackling, cranked guitars and stampeding drums. This virtue is expanded upon in ‘Bills’ with sax and barrel-roll piano augmenting the stripped-down rhythms, stomping blues track ‘Love Got Me Down’ showcasing Wednesday’s vocals and, further still, on the spooky, otherworldly ‘Castle Walls’ a gospel holler of a loner love song. After a final angular blast from the garage ‘Oh Girl’, all ends well, with ‘All in Good Time’, a half-waltzing country lament that manages to be upbeat and heartbreaking all in the same two-step turn.
Beat Stampede is a record so studded with top notch tunes that, in the good old days when people hung on a disc jockey’s or popular music journalist’s every syrupy word and duly trooped off to department stores with real paper to buy real plastic, it would genuinely and without irony, be described as ‘chart topper’.
All words by Pete Bennett