By: Eric Liebetrau
Mike Mattison is probably best known as the vocalist for the Derek Trucks Band, but he and guitarist-vocalist Paul Olsen have been turning out solid down-home blues rock for more than a decade, under the moniker Scrapomatic. The band's latest album, Sidewalk Caesars (Landslide), demonstrates their affinity for simple blues structures augmented with gospel and R&B inflected vocal harmonies.
With the help of Derek Trucks on slide guitar, "He Called My Name" opens the album and spotlights Mattison's husky, grinding voice. Often venturing into Tom Waits territory, the singer evinces a nice combination of bluesy longing and good-natured acceptance of life's trials and tribulations. In fact, many of the tracks set a pleasing balance between conventional down-and-out blues wailing and tongue-in-cheek humor. The two-song set of "Drink House," an alcohol-fueled catcall, and "Killing Yourself On Purpose," a lamenting response to the previous track's bravado, is a good example.
All the usual blues tropes are here - booze, women, regret, longing, tempered hope - but the band explores other brands of indigenous American music, such as country and bluegrass. "Remember This Day," which features a beautiful, alt-country–flavored chorus, also displays the vocal abilities of Olsen, who throughout the album intertwines his more country/bluegrass sound with Mattison's gruff bluesman's delivery. The cover of Skip James' "Drunken Spree" is a quick bluegrass ride, and "Hook, Line and Sinker" gives a nod to the bayou, similar to the slightly funky, soul-drenched blues of Eric Lindell. There's even some high-energy rock ("I Just Wanna Hang Around with You") and light, thoughtful acoustic strumming (closer "Good Luck with Your Impossible Dream").
Though not the tightest collection of songs, Sidewalk Caesars offers plenty of sincerity and a fresh update of the blues tradition, not to mention one of the better lyrics in recent memory - from "Long-Haired State": "You like your grapes straight from the vine/ I like my grapes from a bottle of wine."
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