Rock And Reprise [album review]
THE CURTIS MAYFLOWER
Everything Beautiful Is Under Attack
I hesitate to use “seventies” anywhere in this review because I am finding that readers have forgotten how to or never learned how to read. When they see such a keyword, they either zone out or stop reading, much as I do whenever I read the word “disco”, unless it relates to ridding the world of it. The thing is, I don’t know how to write about The Curtis Mayflower without seventies references because 1972 and 1973 were magical years for music and these guys bring so much of the best of that period that a look back is pertinent if not crucial. Somehow, the Mayflower has latched onto the essence of what was happening then, channeling the likes of the lesser known but outstanding bands of the times— Cat Mother and Eric Quincy Tate and Wilderness Road and The Damnation of Adam Blessing and Randall’s Island so many others which are still the cornerstones of my record collection. Don’t let the obscurity of those names throw you. They definitely brought their musical A-game. Sure, I had albums by Zeppelin and The Who and every other future superstar band there was, but they wore themselves thin compared to the albums by the bands mentioned above, possibly because I didn’t have to hear them every day, ad infinitum. If you’d not really sat down and listened to (or danced to) the three Damnation albums, you had not lived, in my estimation.
Which is what I feel about Everything Beautiful Is Under Attack. Roots? The Mayflower’s roots are China-deep, mostly blues but with heavy doses of psych, jazz, rock and gospel. Music to feed the denizens of The Avalon and The Fillmore back in the day. Music to attract fans of The Band and Ollabelle. Music to keep blues fans happy but not so much that those not enamored with the genre will turn away. Music which never really went away but faded into the background of the various fads only to be resurrected by bands of quality like The Mayflower.
So who are The Curtis Mayflower? I first heard of them through No Small Children, a trio of lady musicians I watched grow from an ember into a blazing fire (check out their music here). Their mention was nothing more than a nod to the band but it was a nod I was afraid not to follow and I discovered a live album at the end of that rainbow titledLive From the Dive which showed promise enough to make me want to hear more. The cuts were rough, the sound filtered through a handheld, but there was no doubting the music. These guys can play!
And, man, do they show it on Everything Beautiful! They set the hook with the spacey and ethereal Paraselene, sounding so much like a personal favorite band from awhile ago, Oami, that I am sure that’s who I would have thought they were had I not known they were not. I was so taken by it that I looped it for awhile just to be sure and, yes, I am sure, but damn! They must have recorded on the same inner planet. Next, Clockwork Hearts made Paraselene scoot over and a pattern emerged. A two-layered approach this time, spacey keyboards and rockin’ guitar hook working on opposite ends toward one another with just enough dissonance to draw you in. From there, it was a simple matter of listening. Crawl No More rocks straight and true. Motown meets gospel in Last Kiss, with chunks of Stax mixed in. White boys channeling R&B. When it’s good it’s great and this is good if not great.Punchline could have been off of any Ollabelle album had The Mayflower not nailed it down first. Light shuffle beat with Casper the Ghost-type choir with swing twist and the line “I’m the punchline to the joke.” Good stuff. Carry Your Burden Home allows the band to let loose a little, a blues phrase the base of a rocker with punchy rhythm guitar, organ-as-bedrock and enough lead guitar licks to float a boat. Tasty. Back to soul/blues with 7 Children, a soulful blues ballad with bridges that explode out of the middle at just the right moments. I hear a bit of Linn County in the structure, for those who remember that Bay Area band. A bit of Curtis Salgadoin the vocals, as well. A little kickass rock ‘n’ roll wakes you up on Ben the Destroyer, pounding home the message that “Ben is the boss!” Upbeat and killer! God, but I wish I could remember who Cold and Dark reminds me of, but maybe it is more than one artist/band. Jazzy with Booker T organ. I love it. And the arrangement is excellent! Straight blues laces NYCD‘s shoes, chooglin’ blues. Damn good blues. And then there is the capper, The Devil Wants To Get Paid, a very The Band-sounding roots-rocker with power organ and The Band harmonies. Great way to exit the album.
Now, about the seventies. It isn’t retro, my friends. It is just plain good music. Most of what came out of the period is straight ahead rock with various leanings. That’s what The Mayflower gives to you on this album— in spades. The band has a cohesion which mirrors the best bands of that era and a lineup which has produced great music from that era on— guitars, bass, keyboards (including Hammond B-3, a reason to listen to these guys in the first place), drums, and a vocalist who handles everything from screaming blues to soul to rock with an ease that sets you at yours. Ease, that is.
This, by the way, is not the album I expected. After hearing Live From the Dive, I expected more of a lounge jazz feel, but I think I like this even more. In fact, I am sure I do. A solid album and a band to watch. That’s The Curtis Mayflower. Think Curtis Mayfield and pilgrims.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.