Desperation Blues – The Street Team Review

Posted: April 22, 2013 in General Announcements, ZED, ZEDHEADS (Street Team)
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ZED-new-photo

When I first sat down to write a review of ZED’s Desperation Blues I never imagined it would be a difficult task. Much to my surprise however, I was at a loss (at least initially) to find the words that did justice to what I was hearing.

Part of my dilemma stemmed from not understanding why ZED’s music was considered, “Stoner Rock.” This perhaps was due to the point of reference during which my musical tastes were formed; the late 60’s and the 70’s. I always thought stoner rock was something like the title track from Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs. You know the track, a sort of subdued, floating and ethereal piece that one could get lost in when, well…stoned.

I found myself on Wiki reading about the stoner rock genre and it started to make sense. I learned that stoner rock is a subgenre that combines elements of traditional heavy metal, psychedelic rock, blues rock, acid rock and doom metal; typically slow to mid tempo music with a bass heavy sound, melodic vocals and retro production.

Wiki went on to explain that what stoner rock delivers, slowed down and magnified, is the riff – the persistent legacy of Mississippi Blues. Some of the listed influences of stoner rock were Blue Cheer (who coincidently were from the bay area like ZED) Cream, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. One Wiki contributor called stoner rock, “A psychedelic-tinged metal and acid rock through the buzzing sound of subpop style grunge.” Another author shrugged away the heavy metal influence, citing punk rock and hardcore punk.

Again according to Wiki, Soundgarden was referred to as the standard-bearers of stoner rock in the 90’s.

As I read this, the “Stoner Rock” moniker started making sense, and I finally found the starting point for this review. Put all these influences in a big heavy bag, add a pinch of Alice In Chains, a touch of Clutch, a dash of early Montrose and a hint of Queensryche, shake it all up and you have ZED.

Desperation Blues stays true to the trademark sound and style of ZED’s 2010 debut album The Invitation although it’s brighter, better produced, and more sophisticated. Desperation Blues harkens back to the classic rocks days when songs told a story musically – when songs had intros and verses and bridges and changes in directions and outros. Back when songs were not dependent on repetitive choruses, or a catchy hook here and there.

Desperation Blues is a nonstop riff machine, where the songs are the hooks in and of themselves. Mark’s bass guitar is solid, intelligent and in the pocket, with great tone and tasty little runs when and where they should be. Rich’s drums are a truly a standout on this record, start to finish. Pete’s vocals are impassioned, emotive and unique in tone. Greg and Pete’s guitars unite for a solid wall of sound, reminiscent of AC/DC, but with a sound all their own…yet they each also go their own way when needed. There are some great, yet not overused harmony guitar licks similar to Thin Lizzy and the Allman Brothers.

Greg expands his soloing on Desperation Blues, and thanks to the improved production of this recording, you can hear them much better. The leads are tasty and effective, but true to ZED’s style, the obligatory, “Lead Break/Guitar Solo” is not the focus of ZED’s music. ZED stays away from the cookie-cutter format of verse/verse/chorus, verse/verse/chorus, lead break/guitar solo, verse/verse/chorus.

The cool thing about ZED is that you immediately know who it is when you hear them. They have their own sound, and that sound is very, very good.

Desperation Blues is one bad-ass rock record. It has variety, and a powerful fluidity of motion. Just when you lock in on a riff they’ll take it up a notch, or change directions, but all the while keeping you along for the ride. And what a ride it is…

Perhaps the single-most telling aspect of Desperation Blues is that is stands up to, (and gets even better after) repeated listenings. It stays fresh.

Track Listing:

Please

The lead track is a real pile driver and a head banger with a pulsating underlying hook. This song is featured in ZED’s first official video from the album. It’s syncopated, brooding and dark, and the Alice In Chains vibe during the breakdown gives you time to catch your breath before coming back and bashing your brains in during the outro.

Skin and Bones

Skin and Bones kicks off with a full-throttle intro. Its acceleration pushes you back in your chair, shifting gears like Montrose’s Bad Motor Scooter, only this ride is a fire-breathing big block V-8. It will likely earn you a speeding ticket if you listen to it in your car.

The ride takes you in and out of foot-tapping and head-bobbing “Cruising Speed” verses. There’s an extended, melodic-yet-still-brooding bridge, featuring a walking bass line and surprisingly soothing harmony vocals, which builds like a dark pending storm back into a heart-skipping riff…progressing into a revisit of the opening riff, and ending with punk influenced vibe.

Killing Machine

This is a marching blues rock number; retro and ballsy. It breaks down into a tasty bridge with nice dynamics, which segues back to the powerful underlying riff. Killing Machine features a haunting bridge, which comes back out again into the opening march. The outro is a driving, straight power chord progression that guaranteed to bring out the air-guitar player in you. Pete’s snarling vocals, with a hint of vulnerability combined with defiant bad boy charisma fit perfectly.

Desperation Blues

The title track from the album features an infectious riff and vibe. It’s a retro piece with restrained power. It’s intelligent rock that builds throughout. Greg’s wah-wah pedal is a perfect fit, and there’s some nice, tight, low harmony guitar riffs and guitar interplay here.

Crawl Back To You

Smart, tight, well crafted and arranged, this cut is one of my favorites on the CD. Crawl Back To You has a Southern Rock vibe, dare I say almost a Southern-Country Rock vibe in places. It opens with vocals and guitar only, with the drums and bass joining in at about the 1:30 mark. Rich’s drums stand out, and the vocals are awesome.

There are hints of Alice In Chains flavors here, as well as the Outlaws and even Marshall Tucker. Well ok, maybe Marshall Tucker on steroids.

More

More opens with bass, wah-wah guitar and vocals that build into a throbbing heartbeat of a riff that ebbs and flows. Imagine Curtis Mayfield’s Freddie’s Dead meets Soundargen and Sabbath. It’s another favorite track of mine, quite possibly my #1 favorite.

There are more AIC flavors towards the end, and it’s an absolute riff monster.

Rain

Rain is the mellowest track on the record, if any song here could be called mellow. Opening with guitar and vocal only, it’s reflective and melancholy. Rain is also one of my favorites.

A ballad with a touch of Southern Rock, with a Moody-Blues meets Queensryche vibe. Rain kind of has that “Seattle Sound” – and could have easily come out of the Northwest in the 90’s. There’s a very tasty breakdown that brews up a looming riff…and then the songs builds and transitions into a Black Sabbath-esque power riff that pounds your senses, softens, and then returns to finish you off.

The Empty Quarter/Settle The Score

The Empty Quarter is more of an intro/teaser for Settle The Score but is something that could have been an unfinished track or just a passing jam. It acts as a table-setter, and runs about 1:14. with U2 and AIC flavors. Segue to Settle The Score, another ZED power play with the accelerator mashed hard to the floor – but in true ZED style it doesn’t stay there. This song simmers through the verses like a hot rod rolling through an intersection, only to floor it again on the other side; spining your tires and shifting gears as you go.

Even with the up-and-down dynamics of the song, ZED still finds a way through it all to develop an underlying sense of continously building tension.

There’s a couple f-bomb expletives used for purposeful emphasis in Settle The Score, and I don’t find their use profane at all. To the best of my knowledge these are the only expletives on the entire album – but I guess that was enough to earn ZED the explicit lyric warning label on the CD. There are some tasty little bass fills in the softer passages.

The River (2012)

The River is a remake of ZED’s opus from The Invitation, and is relatively unchanged other than production value and some additional lead guitar and guitar interplay.

The River could be ZED’s theme song, and/or their encore performance to a sold-out arena. It’s the closest thing to a jam that ZED has recorded, but it’s still got a direction; cohesive and tight with tremendous power and dynamics. It’s a movie soundtrack waiting to happen, delivered with a sledgehammer.

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