Crunch. That's the word that comes to mind. Yeah, crunch.
When Matt O'Ree and his buddies (bassist Eric Lee Collier and drummer Bob Pantella) stick to crunch, as in power chords, flat out pedal-to-the-metal rock, they're very good indeed. And for most of "Chalk It Up," that's whatcha get . . . unpretentious, blue-collar blues-rock, fueled by testosterone and sounding soaked in beer.
Matt's influences are pretty clear right off the top, as the opener, "Such A Shame," sounds like a long-lost Hendrix tune. "Jump Up And Run" follows, this a straightforward shuffle with a Johnny Winter jones goin' on and some fierce piano comping to drive it along, while the title track comes straight from the SRV school. Yet Matt isn't merely recycling here; he's responsible for nine of the disc's twelve tunes, and shows great invention within the relatively limited pallette he works with . . . a pallette, truth be told, that doesn't rely a great deal on subtlety or restraint. Even when he tackles a slow burner like "Mine For A Song," Matt can't resist cutting loose with fiery bursts of notes; guest Norm Seldin's B3 is a highlight here, "If You Wanna Mess Around," all snarling menace once the scratchy acoustic intro's done with, shows Matt equally adept at slide, again with a healthy dollop of Mr. Winter's influence. It's followed by "Ain't Got No Time," another shuffle, which proves the best showcase for Matt's vocals, neither strained nor overly relaxed, he seems to have found the perfect balance here. "Let Me Know" is a Southern-rock style ballad, almost surprisingly pretty at first before Matt's characteristicly passionate playing takes over to bring it to a rousing climax.
"Swing Time," an instrumental, is a major misstep; for all the fire in his fretwork, this is not a band that swings, and it's painfully apparent here; there's a leaden quality throughout. Matt should stick to what he does best, and this ain't it. Similarly, the Blues Hounds' take on "Shotgun Blues," with it's distorted guitar and rather tentative harmonica, merely sounds dated; I haven't heard a guitar tone like this for many a year now, and can't say I've missed it. "Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right," taken here at breakneck pace, gets things firmly back on track, before Matt brings everything to a surprising close with a solo instrumental take on "Amazing Grace." (No, really!). Quite ethereal, quite lovely.
For those who like a lot - and I mean a lot - of rock mixed in with their blues, and appreciate fast and furious fretwork, this is a very good disc; those whose tastes run to subtlety and a somewhat more relaxed approach, beware!
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