Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 22: Five Horse Johnson, "Mississippi King"

Artist: Five Horse Johnson
Song: "Mississippi King"
Album: The No. 6 Dance
Year: 2001

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Over the past three decades or so, there has been one statement within the world of music that seems to be one of the "go to" criticisms for people ranging from music critics to television anchors that wish to seem better informed.  The idea of "rock and roll is dead" comes up so often, that if one does not know better, it could lead to some small level of belief in this absolutely ludicrous statement.  While it can be states that rock music certainly has a great deal of competition within the musical mainstream, and that it has a much different overall tone than the sound of rock music in the late 1960's; there is no question that there are still a massive number of rock bands all across the world.  Yet there are also some bands that display a clear love for the tone and feel of the rock music of yesteryear, and few groups have perfected this as perfectly as Ohio-bred rockers, Five Horse Johnson.  Bringing a combination of the sleaze and smoke of groups like AC/DC and Aerosmith, and the rocking-sway similar to that of ZZ Top or Molly Hatchet, yet ensuring that it had just as much "modern appeal" as any other current rock band, Five Horse Johnson easily appeal to a massive range of music fans.  All of their various influences came together in absolutely fantastic balance on their 2001 release, The No. 6 Dance, and few songs better represent the bands' sound than their song from that album, the blistering track "Mississippi King."

The moment that "Mississippi King" begins, everything that makes Five Horse Johnson such an enjoyably unique band within the current world of music is completely apparent.  It is the grit and grind within the guitars of Brad Coffin and Phil Durr that instantly grab the listener, and there is no question that this sound would have fit just as perfectly in the era of their influences as it does in more modern times.  The way that the guitars seem to sway back and forth with a massive presence is nothing short of addictive, and on many levels, it is the almost "dirty" sound found here that is the very essence of the hard rock approach.  Even when they are trading short solos or adding perfectly placed fills, it is the guitars that drive the song, and there is no question that the chemistry within this band is far beyond that of a majority of their peers.  Underneath the fantastic dual-guitar sound, bassist Steve Smith injects a powerful groove into "Mississippi King," and the fact that an Ohio-based band is able to create such a heavily "Southern style" rock sound is a testament not only to their talents, but also to their understanding of how music itself works.  The bassline has far more range and appeal than almost any other from the current era of music, and the way that it locks in with the sound of drummer Eric Miller serves as a superb reminder as to what "real" rock and roll is all about.

Much in the same way that the music found all throughout the catalog of Five Horse Johnson manages to place a fresh spin on a classic sound, the vocals from Eric Oblander strike a similar balance.  Yet it is within his performance where one can hear a definite influence from the world of heavy metal, as the way that he delivers the vocals is something that steps beyond "just" a hard rock sound.  There is an almost fun-loving aggression within his voice, and it is the spirit with which he sings that vaults "Mississippi King" to a level beyond nearly all of their peers.  It is the fact that Oblander is able to bring a somewhat-sleazy sound to his singing, yet never become cliché or sound artificial that is the key to the appeal of his voice, and once one hears his singing, it is clear just how perfectly the entire band would have fit into the sound of the early 1970's rock movement.  Furthermore, the lyrics to "Mississippi King" are in many ways as quintessential rock and roll as one can find anywhere, and the suggestive, somewhat mischievous nature of the words match perfectly with both the music and singing.  It is the way that the song is able to so seamlessly blend seemingly cryptic allusions with a clear sexual subtext that pushes "Mississippi King" to further greatness, and the fact that throughout all of this, the links to the "Southern sound" are reinforced, shows just want a talented band lives within Five Horse Johnson.

With each passing year, the number of bands playing "real" rock and roll music dwindles, perhaps due to the fact that most record labels prefer more bland, polished sounds that they can sell to the uninspired masses.  Thankfully, across the world there are a number of groups that refuse to compromise their sound and personality, creating a consistently refreshing reminder of how rock and roll music should truly sound.  Among these bands, few are as good as Five Horse Johnson, as their mixture of a wide range of influences yield a brand of rock music that is able to remind the listener of the sounds of the early 1970's, whilst staying firmly rooted within the modern sound.  The dual-guitar sound that the band brings to "Mississippi King" gives it a presence that is somewhat imposing, and yet it is the high-octane, almost party-like swagger that also comes through in the song that makes it nothing short of an outright musical pleasure to experience.  In fact, one can argue that it is the sense of "fun" that one can feel in the music that is largely missing from a majority of modern acts, and this distinction can be found in every aspect of the song.  Furthermore, it is the fact that the band are able to deliver this feeling and overall musical quality on every one of their songs that sets them so far apart from most other bands in the current music scene, and there are few songs in recent history that can even remotely compare to the power and style found on Five Horse Johnson's magnificent 2001 track, "Mississippi King."

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