Alive Naturalsound Records
Give me a classic power trio line-up with their shit together any day of the week. For what the format might possibly lack in terms of depth of sound, you can’t beat the sonic synchronicity of a triple-brained single-mindset. There’s no room for anyone to drop a groove or miss a change; there’s no place to hide. But when it’s good, it’s really good. And John The Conqueror would be a prime example.
On the Philly-based trio’s self-titled debut, they waste no time in getting down to business. The opener “I Just Wanna” manages to take you from up on the altar in a cappella gospel glory to ‘round back in the alley behind the church with a 40-ouncer, banging back the blues – all in 3 minutes and 29 seconds. Once the opening handclaps give way to Michael Gardner’s drums, there’s no looking back – Gardner slams out a relentless, tension-filled foundation with bassist Ryan Lynn stepping in and out of the groove like a prizefighter, belting it home with killer precision. The Gardner/Lynn rhythm monster allows guitarist/vocalist Pierre Moore to do his thing – soulful testifying coupled with a guitar that vacillates between barking/chugging rhythm and all-out howl. Have mercy!
The trio shows the depth of their sound and moods over the course of the album’s ten cuts. If Gary Clark Jr.’s “Bright Lights” tweaked your ears, you’re going to dig the gritty thump and wail of “All Alone”. “Come Home With Me” will lure you close to the speaker with some gently-fingered tones before walloping you over the head with a churning vibe that goes from Free to funky before it’s all over. The title of “Passing Time” hints that it was simply a let-the-tape-roll jam (complete with off-mike verbal assail by a disgruntled neighbor) – regardless, it’s a fine, fine little dollop of grittiness. “Letter Of Intervention” addresses a hard situation with frank words and a look-you-in-the-eye seriousness. “Say What You Want” combines a classic Mick Jones-style stop-and-go main riff with some down-in-the-cellar R&B. And if you had to make a choice of some John The Conqueror to place in a time capsule, “Time To Go” would be a good one: shimmery arpeggioed chords and a street-corner chorus give way to some slam-crash garageness and dangling-cigarette soul.
Moore – who wrote all the album’s tunes – produced John The Conqueror, proving he has a solid grip on the trio’s sound. The overall vibe is dry and immediate with just enough separation to provide depth. There are no fancy tricks to clutter things up or purify the life out of them: a snare head sizzles; some feedback begins to skwark between riffs; the bass amp breathes with a low, mean-assed rumble – and the mix puts you right in the middle of it. (Don’t touch those tubes. They’re hot.)
The result sounds like the work of a supergroup power trio made up of three vets who just wanted to get together and lay it down, making gutsy, raw, bluesy music for the sheer joy of it. The fact that this is the first time in a studio for the members of this band is mind-blowing.
All hail John The Conqueror: three young men with old souls and a fresh, powerful sound.
Pass the brown paper bag.