Knick Knack Records, a small independent label out of Seattle, has recently seen blues rock trio GravelRoad’s new album “The Bloody Scalp of Burt Merlin” released on LP and CD. While GravelRoad isn’t the most well-known band in the blues scene, their musical worth was assessed by contemporary blues legend T-Model Ford and found of sufficient quality to act as his backing band for a time. Now, since the regrettable passing of T-Model Ford, GravelRoad have been strictly concerned with the writing and recording of their own material, and in that regard they have been tremendously successful.
“The Bloody Scalp of Burt Merlin,” GravelRoad’s fourth full-length album, is an exercise in raw, dirty blues rock, with big distorted riffs, solid low-end accompaniment, and heavy, driving rhythms. But there is another side to GravelRoad’s repertoire, one which consists of slightly cleaner slide guitar and drumbeats that are decidedly less grand but equally effective as a means to punctuate key points in the progressions. On top it all, there is Stefan Zillioux’s voice, deep, smoky vocals which further augment the sound structures built by the members’ collectively impressive musicianship, all coming together in great cohesive compositions. And this is evidenced in all ten songs on the GravelRoad album, from the blues rock of the first three tracks, to the more traditional-sounding songs toward the middle, and then a couple of measured and organic roots compositions to close it all out.
GravelRoad’s “The Bloody Scalp of Burt Merlin” is one of those rare albums from whose wholly exceptional songs it proves more than a little difficult to chose favorites. Still, if pressed to do so, I would most certainly chose slide guitar and handclaps and cleverly uneven vocal delivery of Maybe the Wind, the brief yet wild all-out rocker Med Pass!, the fevered Hill Country blues of Death Bed Blues, and the classic rock and country blues fusion of Bring Me Back.
“The Bloody Scalp of Burt Merlin” by GravelRoad – a superb album by an outstanding band. Definitely worth one’s while. ---- James G. Carlson