By: Dennis Cook
Twistin' one and smokin' it down, skinny dippin' in a lake and generally driving their fingers into fine, earthy stuff, Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element tap into The Mothers of Invention, Dumpstaphunk and some of Neel's earlier involvements like Blue Floyd and the Allman Brothers. Clever but streetwise, the Criminal Element - Neel (keyboards, vocals), Randy Boen (guitar, vocals), Curt Redding (drums, vocals) and Russell Wright (bass) – flow with bar band immediacy fueled by crazy high-level musicianship and a borderless perspective on music.
Not unlike kindred spirits The Codetalkers, they groove hard, dedicated to filling dance floors, but also unafraid to swing on the rings of Jupiter or some other far off celestial body if so inclined. To wit, "Passed Out," which begins in a drunken rush, the floor careening towards our nose as we smile in the descent. But, a few minutes in everything gets all floaty and nice, occasionally dropping back into the pocket assault but then drifting back into monkey mind chatter, organ swells and jagged guitar. On every cut, the rhythm team disappears into the muscles of this thing, moving it along in such a physical way that you almost forget they're there, but you sure as hell can feel them. There's a vibrancy to their instrumental conversation that's boatloads of fun to listen in on, even when they really drift off on "Thunder," which captures a bit of Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" feel but anchored to something a bit more blue collar lyrically and a strong piano and organ bed. Boen's lead vocals here offer a nice contrast to Johnny, but every time the big man opens up he owns the show. Neel is crooner of monumental power, capable of earthquake rattle depth, quivering falsetto and just about everything in between. For all his vaunted keyboard prowess, it's his voice that often stops one in their tracks, which he does a number of times on Volume 2 (Silverwolf Records).
Besides the great pleasure in seeing Johnny Neel's name at the top of the marquee, so to speak, with this project, there's the music itself, which bounces and twirls, fully alive stuff that moves naturally, no matter the mood. It's to their credit that guys who play this well also don't take themselves incredibly seriously, letting the music dwindle into chuckles and stoner references when it wants to. If Volume 2 is any indication, they're likely a treat live, and there seems to be no end of options for them in keeping things varied and engaging.
JamBase | Down South Jukin'
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