John Wilkes Booth
Useless Lucy

Me And John Wilkes Booth go back a long time.  It was back in the spring of 1865 that I used to hide him up in my attic after that little assassination affair.  Seriously though, I’ve been a fan of Long Island’s hard rockin’, hard drinkin’ noisemakers for quite some time now.  The band’s debut long player, Sic Temper Tyrannis was a balls to the wall stoner riff-fest full of punk rock piss n’ vinegar and a hardcore approach.  Not only did the record blow me away, but the live gig I caught was a memorable one.  These guys put out a big sound like Kyuss meets vintage Rollins Band material with a little Sabbath, Disengage, Helmet and the underground sounds of Seattle served on the rocks.  Make no mistake though; Booth’s got an individual identity.

Useless Lucy is JWB’s first album of new material in almost four years.  Present is an eerier approach and quirkier, more unorthodox songwriting lunges than the previous release.  “From the North” casts a menacing shadow right from the get go, chimes ringing in the other worldly midnight hour as guitarist Jason Beickert repeats a few prophetic notes backed by Harry’s doom-y plucks of low-end mantra.  Vocalist Kerry Merkle has a HUGE singing voice, and a monstrous tonality that chills the blood whenever he howls, “Beware of the storm, it comes from the north.”  Drummer Christian Horstmann is the last to make his official entrance, serenely placing an ebbed beat underneath the intro’s damaged ground before coming in with a smash of pocket minded, hard-rock slam.  When these cats lock on, there’s no escaping the crosshairs; you will be gunned down.  The song teeters on the sanity line, walking a high wire act betwixt heaving, doom soaked riffage and pinched, melodic twangs with Beickert squeezin’ the shit out of a sweeping 70s solo and atonal noise surgery.  Stoner rock blazers will enjoy this immensely, but I can’t say it plays out in the traditional sense.

Christian slaps out some agile jazz percussion and cymbal ghosting during the rollicking rocket ride “Masturbation Song” takes you on.  Harry joins in with a bassline fatter than a Christmas hog; the rhythmic interplay staying tough and swingin’ like some of the gritty work peddled by Cain/Weiss.  Jason’s pavement peelin’, squealing lead could also pass for prime Chris Haskett whiplash.  The guitar pulls back for a pummeling rhythmic fill, which gives Merkle his first shot at a hearty clean howl (that turns to a gruff yell later on), with Horstmann dotting the “I” in the form of a manic battery where no piece of his kit is safe from the fury.  When the riffs take hold in all of their distorted glory, the stop/start, broken brake line chug reigns in an early Helmet influence.

The melodic “Six One” has those dreamy melodies of 90s space rock giants Hum and Shiner, heavy and pretty with Kerry’s vocals matching the beauty of the arrangements, but tastefully stretching out his range whenever the rhythms pick up and drive off into the sunset with a bag of cash.  There’s enough heaviness and sincerity to shoot this tune a few stratospheres away from modern radio rock, and the song’s orbit gets pretty weird with Butthole Surfers-esque FX layered onto the vocals in a few instances.  The trippy, hippie lead at 2:40 over Harry’s throbbing groove and Christian’s bustling time-keeping is in possession of more 24 karat than the great Gold Rush…seriously a perfect part that caught me in its voodoo gyration.  Pristine, spotlessly shined guitars in the Welcome to Sky Valley headset open up, “13 Years,” and the rhythm section softly provides support with the drumming especially playing off the rising, aimed skyward vocals.  The riffs are equal parts Iommi and Homme with snakelike melody slithers and a full frontal riff assault making you duck the jab and end up on the receiving end of a barrage to the body.  This combo might just be the album’s strongest one two, and easily JWB’s pinnacle of songwriting prowess.

That’s not say that another favorite “Soaking the Perimeter” is overshadowed by the previous pair of full blooded rockers.  Hell no, it’s another steel toe to the groin with a precision beat shuffle and Harry’s Geezer meets Dave Curran low slung groove basking in piercing guitar feedback before a big, bluesy riff establishes the groove.  The vocals are expressive, in control of some southern drawl, and powerful resulting in smooth, strong verses crowbarring their way into a stash of simple, effective chorus melodies.  A blaring, flatulent horn section brings the boy home, and it’s actually a welcome surprise.

“Ladder and Vacuum” is all about the jagged interplay of the guitar and bass.  It twitches and jerks with Am-Rep unpredictability.  End album sprawler, “Lick my Spacesuit/Family Crest” is a friggen wild ass jam without any apologizes for the eardrums.  The rhythm section never leaves the groove even when Beickert’s guitar derails into total white noise.  Riff-wise there’s more scum-bucket, 70s tendered hard rock than you can shake a stick at with psychedelic flourishes and some chameleon skin vocals from Kerry that are literally all over the map…just pure, badass rock n’ roll form start to finish.

JWB are all hits and no misses on Useless Lucy.  Review listens quickly turned into an instant buy for this old heavy rock fan.  This is a vintage sound with a completely new set of parts under the hood.  If you like your rock straight up no chase, this is definitely worth some dedicated listening sessions.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
January 7th, 2015

Comments

  1. Commented by: Jason

    Just an editor’s note, it’s Jay Dunlop that handles lead guitar on the opener, “From the North.”


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