Monday, February 09, 2009

Blood on the Saddle - Blood on the Sadlle and Poison Love

Another one of my favorite L.A. bands from the 80’s (who are still around in some configuration) is Blood on the Saddle. These cats mixed bluegrass, country and punk into a wild hybrid that I have never heard before or since.

Guitarist Greg Davis is one of the finest players I have ever heard. He is a supersonic, bluegrass-driven madman – insanely fast, clever, melodic, and with a fine tone. He is just jaw-droppingly good. Accompanied by terrific drummer, Herman Senac, and cool stand-up bassist, Ron Botelho (both super nice guys), and former Bangs-bassist (she sings, plays harp and guitar in this line-up), Annette Zilinskas, this quartet blasted through the 80’s LA scene.

Their first album opened up with their theme song “Blood on the Saddle”, sounding like a punked-up soundtrack from a spaghetti western, which plenty of “yee-haws” and “ki-yi-yays”! Davis shows off his mastery of the slide guitar on here with a perfect sound and melodic playing.

Annette comes in with her lovely voice on “Single Girl”, a frantic piece of country-ish rock with Ron wildly slapping his bass as she sings about the mistake she made in getting married. Davis is impossibly fast in “Car Mechanic’s Blues”, but maintains a melody as he compares his girl to his car. “It Hurts Me” sounds almost like you’ve gone to a square dance on speed, with more fine slide playing and a memorable chorus.

To me, “Banks of the Ohio” sounds like an early Americana/Native American story-song. Really melodic and heart-felt as Greg tells the sad tale of murdering his lover! When they were moody, they could be downright scary, but they could be joyous as hell, as well, as in “Do You Wanna Dance”, a duet between Greg & Annette. They mix their two voices to great effect in the chuggin’ “Freight Train” that just pulls you along as it speeds past the station!

A song that most punk rockers could relate to is “Landlord”, a plea to not be kicked out into the street with more crazed bluegrass pickin’ from Davis. Similar in feel is “Ghost on my Heart” and then Greg adds an acoustic classical interlude before “I’ve Never Been Married”, a more mid-tempo, sad song, chronicling the loneliness of the single life.

Their second album highlights Annette a little more, and has a more polished and varied sound, as in the opening track “One Step Away”. This is truly beautiful with chiming guitars and terrific melodies. Greg’s playing is restrained here, leaving Annette to lead and giving the group a whole different and, dare I say it, commercial sound! It’s a crime that this didn’t get massive airplay!

Greg comes back on vocals on “Police Siren”, most likely an autobiographical tune, with Annette on very basic harmonica effects. Ringing chords start out the fun-lovin’ country of “Steal You Away”, an upbeat duet between Greg & Annette about the joys of young love with cool guitar riffing. A more bluesy, mid-tempo groove is the basis for the title track, another Annette tune with a cool, melodic chorus. Really nice and memorable.

More of Greg’s moodiness is evident in “I Thought I Heard Some Thunder”. This is also a little less frantic (though far from slow) with Ron’s slappin’ bass and Herman’s in-the-pocket drumming. The guitar middle is almost Spanish sounding, showing another aspect of Greg’s playing.

Backed by a slow Native American drum beat, Zilinskas sings a tale of “Johnny at the Fair”, as she learns of her man’s cheating ways. This is another exceptional number – pretty and emotional. But she has a whooping good time in “Bed of Roses”, a bouncin’ upbeat song. Davis’ ode to alcohol is “Colt 45”, a fast punker that is funny and has some wild riffin’ but is otherwise not a stand-out. Far from bad, just not as exceptional as some of the others.

Romantic as ever, Annette is back for “Promise Your Heart to Me”, an upbeat tale of love with good harmonies from Greg. The band is fast and furious in “Down and Out” with powerful playing and intense singing from Davis. The closer is a slow minor key masterpiece titled “In the Pines” with lovely, melancholy vocals and odd double-time sections that jar you out of the misery. A great piece of songwriting!

These people really knew how to tell a story and to keep your interest as they did, with real melodies and excellent playing. Definitely one of the highlights of 80’s LA!