(Ol' Elegante Records)
When Swampland writes of bands on Birmingham's music scene, we tend to return to Verbena, and for good reason. That band's former members have continued to make great music on their own (A.A. Bondy, Duquette Johnston) or with others. Vulture Whale features another Verbena mainstay, Les Nuby, who moved from guitar to drums in that band, but has settled into the lead guitar role in Vulture Whale.
However, Vulture Whale is not a vehicle for Nuby, but a true band effort. Originally forming around its lead singer as Wes McDonald and the Fuzz, an incredible group dynamic led to the band's renaming. Vulture Whale has already released two acclaimed albums and Ol' Elegante, its studio/clubhouse/label, has been a recording/production hub for other Birmingham artists such as Maria Taylor and Duqette Johnston's Gum Creek Killers.
Long Time Listener First Time Caller is Vulture Whale's third album and from its first notes it announces itself as an epic slice of rock and roll swagger. The lead-off track, "Devices," emerges as guitar feedback moves to some bluesy soloing before the rhythm section takes over with an insistent bass line and urgent drumming, and that's all in the first 20 seconds of the song. By the time McDonald's snearing vocals spit out "leave me to my own devices" over a riff that would make Keith Richards proud, experienced ears know that Vulture Whale has the goods.
Perhaps the best way to think of Vulture Whale's latest is to imagine that Guns N Roses had stayed truer to their "Stones mixed with punk roots and a dash of glam" beginnings, but eshewed any nods to the hair metal scene entirely. GNR went from chippy outsiders to bloated meglomaniacs so quickly they almost immediately forgot from where they intial intentions laid. Long Time Listener First Time Caller fills that two decades gap, satiating rock fans with a sincerity that GNR never seemed to quite achieve.
The songs on Long Time Listener First Time Caller should also be lauded for their keen sense of musicality. Punked-out riffs are countered by strong melodies ("Hey Midas, That's Fantastic"), slide-fueled rock is underpinned by danceable bass lines ("VCWC"), and REM jangle-guitar counterpoint slashing guitars and urgent vocals ("Non-Linear Love"). Like great chefs, the men of Vulture Whale know how to mix ingredients to deliver the tastiest of sonic dishes.
Too often references to the Stones, Glam Rock, REM jangle, punk, etc become cliched. It's true that these muscial paths might be so well-worn that some consider them threadbare. However, keeping the "chef" analogy alive, odes to heroes of music's past doesn't need to be an unnecessary retread. Think of simple dishes like pulled pork BBQ, cheesburgers, and steak. Though often the bastion of mass marketed restaurant chains, these dishes in the hands of true expert can quickly move from the mundane to the transcendent.
Vulture Whale's Long Time Listener First Time Caller provides rock adherents with a satisfying aural meal. Their accomplishment might be easy to explain, but it takes a band with Vulture Whale's experience to pull it off so completely and consistently.
- Jim Markel
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