Reviewed by William Tokash
When Harry recently asked me if I’d like to pen some reviews for Twangri-La, his inspirational effort to document his Vision for (a real) Country Music Utopia, I happily accepted. And I knew I was gonna lead with a Bloodshot Records release. I am a Chicago guy, and a long-time Bloodshot Records fan. Bloodshot Records brings a quintessentially Chicago kind of attitude to their label, which has enabled a number of innovative artists to pursue their own unique, DIY paths for over 20 years now.
On another front, I hear someday scientists are going to finish mapping the human genome. And when they identify the genes for an affinity for music that blends punk, country, soul, bluegrass, gospel, blues, and rock n roll influences, all laced with a heavy dose of in-your face attitude, the size of my chromosomes are gonna be shown to be ‘off the chart’ YUGE. And Bloodshot has a current stable and long history of bands along these lines always putting out great music.
But where to start? How about with Al Scorch. Al Scorch is clawhammerin’ speed-freak on the banjer, born and bred on the great “Nort-west Side of Chicaga” who released his Bloodshot debut titled “Circle Round The Signs” earlier this year.
Al pairs his virtuosic banjo skills with fiddle player, a snare drummer, and a stand-up bass as the foundation with passionate lyrics and a working-class, socially-aware perspective. On several tracks, he brings what he calls his Country Soul Ensemble to the forefront. For example, he fits in some squeeze box in on Lost at Sea, a clarinet on a Squirrel Nut Zipper-inspired track called Everybody Out, and what I think was a French horn on a couple of beautiful ballads (City Lullaby and Poverty Draft).
But don’t fret; this record has some punk-inspired fire and brimstone too, with the opener Pennsylvania Turnpike, Want One, and Slipnot all bringing nice hooks and some serious speed. These songs made me think of other Bloodshot favs of mine like Split Lip Rayfield and the Meat Purveyors. There is a nice hint of Bad Livers in here too. I have to admit, despite the fact that I get to a fair number of local shows, I have not yet seen Al live. But he’s on my List. This record comes together really nicely and I highly recommend you check it out.