When Derek & The Dominos released Layla in 1970, many listeners didn’t have a clue who the members actually were, let alone how deeply personal much of the album’s music was. Since then, the guitar summit and mutual admiration of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman during the Layla sessions has become the stuff of legends; as has Clapton’s visceral songwriting on the album, pouring out his feelings for his buddy George Harrison’s then-wife Patti Boyd.
In a sense, One Man Show is 30db’s Layla.
Here you have two talented jam masters (Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band and Brendan Bayliss from Umphrey’s McGee), each on the back side of a busted long-term relationship and finding solace in the opportunity to write and play their way through the pain together. Backed by a killer band that includes Nick Forster of Hot Rize on guitar, Open Road bassist Eric Thorin, and Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) on drums and keys, Austin and Bayliss have put together an album that can be enjoyed simply for its exceptional playing or admired for its totally honest, open, putting-it-all-out-there writing. Or both. It’s a piece of work.
Don’t confuse honest tunes for downer tunes, however – there are no woe-are-we crying jags on One Man Show. Sure, there are moments of gentle sweetness (“Return Item,” “Instrumental In D,” or “Wadmala”) but there is also Umphreyish crunch (check out the guitar hook on “Backbone”) and even a bit of heel-kicking, happy-Herman’s Hermits-style vibe (“Always Up”).
Of course, even the bounce of “Always Up” is part of the purging process:
You’re the one
You’re the reason
The cause of the effects
You’re the X
In the equation
That I don’t care to remember
But that’s okay – there’s no wallowing. Just some pumping of the emotional bilges, some wordplay, and onward we go.
As a band, 30db has a big, wide-ranging sound: Dickinson drives “Automatic” like a young and feisty Mick Fleetwood, while he and Thorin lay down a hyper-Diddley foundation on “One More,” rocking out while guitars chug, wah, and wail. The whole band lets loose on “Grave,” letting the ass end fishtail wide on the turns and ducking into the slipstream of Forster’s screaming slide work on the straight stretches.
Bayliss and Austin complement each other well: the former is the master of the smooth vocal melody that soars over simmering chord changes. (The way the verses glide into the chorus on the title track? That’s textbook Bayliss for you.) His guitar work is all over the album, from fender-bender duels with Forester on the stompers to lovely weaves with Austin’s mando on the more acoustic-based tunes.
Speaking of Austin, he turns himself inside-out on One Man Show. He doles out sweaty-haired glasses-sliding-down-the-nose vocals on tunes such as the aforementioned romps “Grave” and “One More” to sweet mando ripples (“Susanah”) and cascades (“Liar”). His stand-out moment on One Man Show is “Backfire”: with Bayliss chasing him on acoustic, Austin lays down a vocal that ranges from wistful to heartbroke and back. In the meantime, his mandolin mirrors the same emotions – there’s a point midway through the song when he makes the little 8-string bugger absolutely growl – and though it’s more rhythm work than fleet-fingered picking, it gets the job done, bigtime.
Hopefully, this isn’t just a one-time project. It would be cool to think that there’s more music ahead for 30db – Bayliss, Austin, and company just laying it down for the fun of it. No heartache required.