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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Album Review: Stone Axe - s/t Expanded Edition

Stone Axe - s/t Expanded Edition
2011 Ripple Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Last year, Ripple Music resurrected interest in Jim Gustafson and the mighty Poobah with the release of the suddenly-seminal Let Me In. This year, Ripple goes after another fuzz rawk debut to bring awareness to Washington's Stone Axe, self-purveyors of "seventies rock preservationism."

While that's certainly an abundant enough description of Stone Axe's booming lilt, if you're new to this group and want a fundamental breakdown of what you're getting, it would have to signal a merge between the late sixties to mid-seventies heavy rock. This includes Black Sabbath, of course, but Stone Axe also gets into some Canned Heat, Cream, Atomic Rooster and Iron Butterfly along with Skynard, Sabbath, the Allmans and early Rod Stewart. If you're wondering "huh?" at the latter comparable, hunker down with the swinging "There'd Be Days" from Stone Axe's 2009 self-titled debut.

It stands to reason a reissue of a two-year-old release is a bit odd, but Ripple believes in Stone Axe and so should you. Even Dog the Bounty Hunter is on the Stone Axe love train, if you caught his March 9th episode that featured the band's "Return of the Worm." Stone Axe takes what they do rather seriously, even when that amounts to simply capturing a moment of spontaniety without any wash overtop. Principal songwriter and guitarist Tony Reed talks about plucking bars and notes into a tape recorder and working out songs from there, which can take as little as ten minutes to lay down and record once written. Thus Stone Axe is a pretty impressive ballyhoo of impulsive amplifier worship that began with just a hairball blues rock lover and a frontman who looks and moves like seventies' era Ozzy and vocally projects like Glenn Hughes.

"Riders of the Night" from Stone Axe is already their calling card live tune along with "Chasing Dragons" from last year's Stone Axe II. Thus you get a heavy dash of both on Ripple Music's Expanded Edition of Stone Axe, which includes the original ten song album, eight live recordings and a bonus DVD filled with homegrown videos, live video, record store performances and radio interviews.

The promo video for "Chasing Dragons" on this Expanded Edition shows Stone Axe who they are, a foursome in a compact studio with Bowie, Beatles and Motorhead posters surrounding them. Frontman Dru Brinkerhoff owns his position and particularly in a live capacity, he unleashes his soul and then lets his follicles swish in his face while he encouragingly stamps and claps in tandem with his band. It's like watching Sabbath go at it with "Supernaut" or Canned Heat through "Rollin' and Tumblin'." The black and white "Beat Club" Sessions in particular is filmed with a superimposed grain and lineup screen flash mimicked in the lettering of sixties' television. The backdrop of the Stone Axe II album cover conveys the band's intent perfectly. It's obvious their throwback sound has a modern man's instrumental fine-tuning, despite Reed's inhibition to play as live and natural as possible. Still, it's a pretty damned cool vibe and visual.

From the original Stone Axe album comes various renditions of "Shine On," "Riders of the Night," "Black Widow," "There'd Be Days," "Sky is Falling," "My Darkest Days" and "Skylah Rae" on the DVD while tossing out some live cuts from Stone Axe II.

If you're interested in what Stone Axe is selling, this Expanded Edition is well-worth the investment since you're getting a fuller overview of what this band has to offer. Stone Axe is rowdy, but they're disciplined. They belt out a din for music heads by music heads and though Tony Reed alludes to a possible progressive upgrade to Stone Axe's future recordings, it all starts here, loud and proud.

Rating: ****1/2

1 comment:

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