Sound — 10
Back Door Slam are a small band from the equally small Isle of Man, signed to Blix Street Records, fronted by singer/lead guitarist Davy Knowles, a 21-year old guitar maestro whose bluesy wailing and screaming guitar provide the driving force of the music. Davy is backed up by Jamie Armstrong on Bass and Ross Doyle on drums who aren't slackers either, providing an interesting and at times complex rhythm section. "Roll Away" is their debut album released in 2007, offering up 10 (plus one bonus) tracks of incredible Blues Rock which, if you didn't know better would make them seem like weathered, travel-weary 40-somethings with beards and cowboy hats who spent their time chilling with Eric Clapton and B.B King. The first thing that will hit you about Back Door Slam is that they are inspired heavily by the Blues, and you aren't wrong. You can hear snippets of previous Blues and Classic Rock masters; Cream, Hendrix, B.B King - all of these greats have obviously had their influence on the young trio. However, what makes Back Door Slam special is that, while the Blues has become a tired, often-repeated and predictable formula, (not to say I don't consider it to be THE ROOT of Rock as we know it) these three youngsters have mixed it up. While they never stray far from their Blues Rock roots, they change enough to make it different and interesting on each song, sometimes throwing in some good ol' Classic Rock, or a little bit of country or folk, it all blends together perfectly to create one of the greatest blues offerings I've heard, not just in recent years but of all time. Now, a track-by-track breakdown: 01."Come Home": opening with an excellent little bass riff, this song slowly builds up to a rollicking rock number with clever guitar lyrics and a busy rhythm section, a strong, interesting track. 02."Heavy On My Mind": A mid-tempo, fuzzy-guitar number, somewhat more bluesy than the preceding track, but still full of little tricks and changes that keep the whole affair interesting. 03."Outside Woman Blues": this song opens like a Hendrix number and carries on in that vein, with bluesy licks thrown in, mixed up with the vocals of Cream and coming out as a delicious slice of Blues cake with Classic Rock icing, with a guitar-solo cherry on top (that's it with the cake analogies now, I promise). 04."Gotta Leave": the opening of this song is a nice, mellow and perhaps a little melancholy. Much more in line with straight Blues, toning down the distortion and slowing the entire affair down. Its an excellent track because after 3 hard-hitting numbers it offers you a moment to catch your breath and really appreciate the work the band put into their music. 05."Stay": a touching, mournful song dedicated to Brian Garvey, who was the band's rhythm guitarist before dying in a car crash in 2004, while the band were still performing in high school. This song really adds another level to the band, casting aside all of the typical since-my-baby-left-me's that are often associated to blues and drawing on personal experience to create a song that is...almost beyond words. A mainly acoustic number that slowly grows in intensity and feeling, you can really hear Knowles crying his heart out, both with his voice and with his guitar. 06."Too Late": I love the opening guitar riff to this song, a quick, upbeat and bright number to lift the spirit after "Stay". A short, sharp, punchy number. 07."Takes A Real Man": this is one of those excellent, toe-tapping, head-bobbing, sing-along songs, again subscribing to the forumla or blues licks carried along by a steady rhythm section. If you're thinking: "Yeah, but that's what every song's been so far" well, you'd be right, (with the exception of "Stay") but it still isn't boring. All the songs have their own personal feel, from beginning to end and neither of them sound alike. 08."It'll All Come Around": this song opens with a riff that reminds me of AC/DC and follows suit all the way through, with quieter verses and a riff-driven chorus. Less blues licks, although I think its impossible for Davy to NOT throw in a couple here and there, this is a more Rock n' Roll sounding song. 09."Too Good For Me": an excellent opening with soulful strumming on the acoustic. This song has a real Country ballad-y feel to it, drawing on more modern inspirations and eschewing the Blues for a little bit. It's a refreshing segue from the rest of the album with some nice slide guitar thrown in, an excellent track. 10."Roll Away": I've always considered my grasp and mastery of the English language to be rather good, but when it comes to describing this song I can't find the right words. It's simply...incredible...amazing. It's...incredazing. An amazing, acoustic-driven number with some truly beautiful guitar work. This song has a folky, almost medieval feel to it that you have to hear to understand. Hands down the best track on the album and that's saying a LOT. 11."Real Man": this is the bonus track on the album and sounds like something Hendrix would've written to be honest. It's another incredible offering from this incredible band. So, to summarise this section I can't find a weak song on the album. Sure, many of the songs stick to the same tried-and-tested formula but it works, and when these youngsters do stray from the well and truly beaten path, they do so with cofidence and aplomb.
Lyrics — 9
I know many of you will probably be dubious about the lyrics. You've probably seen the word "Blues" so many times now that the possibility of the lyrics following that trend are almost certain. And I'd have to say, you're probably right. A lot of the songs are about women leaving or being unattainable, or feeling inadequate and are generally, well...quite blue. However, as quite possibly the oldest form of guitar-based music, isn't it fair to assume that blues lyrics WORK? Sure, they might not get you to reflect on yourself or overthrow the nearest government, but they sure as hell do their job within their genre. One great thing about Blues lyrics is that you can always associate them to your own life. They remain ambiguous and vague most of the time, so you can always attach your own meanings. They can be about your break ups, or your tough times and that's always been the appeal of the Blues, they're an ode to the working class man who has to go day to day dealing with hardship and feeling downtrodden. However, Back Door Slam are more than willing to throw you a curve ball, particularly with two songs, and you can probably guess which two. Yes, "Stay" and "Roll Away". The former, written as an ode to a dead friend is a touching tribute that makes you stop and think for a moment. They have a definite weight and meaning behind them. "Roll Away" is all about leaving home and from the opening strums it paints an image of a lone man, a guitar slung across his back, walking along the cliffs of a small island soaked in the light of sunset. It's an evocative, beautiful song about leaving home and being unsure about your future. It can be many things to many people; an anthem about the transition to manhood, the theme song for people who don't know where they're going or what they want. It works on so many levels and holds some real meaning. Honestly, the other 9 songs could've been nothing but the word "Grotto" (a word I HATE) repeated over and over again and these two songs would have redeemed the entire album.
Overall Impression — 10
I cannot praise this band highly enough, and at the risk of sounding like a fanboy I would like to level some criticism at them. But I can't, they make no excuses for what they are and they pay homage to their inspirations openly. Sure, Blues and Classic Rock aren't new genres, but they have endured this long because they strike a chord with people, they mean something and they can be appreciated on many different levels, both by the hardcore music enthusiast and casual listeners. The formula might not change often, but when it does it really has an effect and it shows that this band aren't afraid to throw a little bit of spice into the pot and change things up a little. Considering the band would've been around 19 during the recording of Roll Away, they show an amazing amount of promise. Which is why I'm so sad they've broken up. Yes, that's right. A couple of days after finding out about them (and this does nothing to lessen the credibility of my review, I've been listening to the album constantly), I find out they've broken up. Davy Knowles has gone on to start another band, again called Back Door Slam, but I've yet to hear that album. The chemistry on this album works brilliantly. I'd urge you to check it out as soon as possible, through Myspace, Youtube or other means, to miss out on "Roll Away" would be criminal. If you're a fan of Cream, Hendrix, or just music in general, don't waste another second, check out Back Door Slam and see what all the fuss is about.