Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Soul Rockin’ reviewed by Mark Thompson

Soul Rockin’
Hounds Tooth
Tweed Tone Records
10 tracks/33:30

The latest release from this group based out of Milwaukee, WI finds the line-up down to a quartet. After using several female singers, the lead vocal chores are now handled by Jared James Nichols and J.D. Optekar, both of whom play guitar as well. The rhythm section is in the capable hands of Bob Noll on bass and Jeff Oscarson on drums.

The program includes three covers and a batch of originals from Optekar, who displays a talent for songwriting. The title track opens with a guitar riff borrowed from the Ted Nugent playbook, with Nichols singing and laying down some searing guitar lines. He also dazzles on the opening cut, “Blues is the Truth”, a funky workout that finds Nichols contributing more of his impressive guitar picking. Another highlight is “Black Coffee”, the strongest of Optekar’s tunes. Guest Gabe Marchan turns in a passionate vocal and the twin guitar interplay adds lots of heat to this slow blues number.

The band burns through the Chuck Berry groove on Duke Robillard’s “Jumpin’ Rockin” Rhythm”, which features a blistering guitar solo. Nichols gets another showcase on the classic “Goin’ Down”. He turns a credible vocal but really shines on guitar, playing with energy and originality. “Me and My Guitar” comes from the Leon Russell songbook. Optekar gets a chance to show off his instrumental abilities.

Several tracks lose steam due to Optekar’s mannered approach to singing, as his voice isn’t always up to the demands of the material. Tracks like “Is It Real” or “Time to Burn” are musically strong with finer guitar playing but the singing falls short of packing a similar punch.

There is plenty to enjoy with this title. Nichols is already an a guitarist with plenty of technical skill and an original approach to playing that has marked him as a player worth watching. Some day you just might see him onstage at one of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads guitar festivals. Other strengths include Optekar’s songwriting, his strong guitar work and a rhythm section that handles everything thrown at them. This is definitely a band on the rise. If they can tighten things up in the vocal category, their next release will be a killer!!

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