Friday, September 10, 2010

Aerosmith - Honkin' on Bobo

This 2004 release - the band's 14th studio album - was a return to their rockin' blues roots (the title is a reference to the harmonica that Tyler uses through much of the record) and is one of their finest efforts ever - certainly since the 70's! They even brought back Jack Douglas, the master of 70's hard rock production, who worked on their classic albums.

The band really picks some of the best of the best of the blues and rocks them up in 70's Aerosmith style. Opening with Steven's circus introduction, they blast into a raw, raucous and heavy take of Bo Diddley's "Road Runner", making this much-covered tune their own. I'm not familiar with Smiley Lewis' "Shame, Shame, Shame", but here it is a boogie-woogie rocker, similar to their version of "Big Ten Inch Record". Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight to the Blind" is more traditional than many people's version and is a terrific blues with some cool harp.

Another song covered by most of the civilized world is "Baby, Please Don't Go", but they still imbue it with high energy and great guitar interaction reminiscent of their work on things like "Train Kept a-Rollin'" - this could be my new fave version of this amazing song. A surprise is a re-working of Aretha Franklin's "Never Loved a Man" (gender changed to "girl" for Steven). This keeps the soulfullness of the original but with more of a blues edge and the heavy rhythm section (Joey Kramer and Tom Hamilton are in top form) make it great.

The group slows things down for a moody, gospel-blues approach on the blues with "Back Back Train", a Mississippi Fred MacDowell song. Excellent vocal work from Tracy Bonham, whose gospel stylings are magnificent and spine-tingling and add a new dimension to the sound. The boys add one of their own here, "The Grind", which fits right in as a super heavy, guitar dominated blues stomper.

Drenched in feedback and adding new riffs, wah-wah, slide and who knows what else, Muddy Waters' "I'm Ready" is given an entirely new treatment, making it even more menacing than the original. I'm a big fan of Little Walter, but am not familiar with "Temperature", which these cats do as a swinging, grinding, harp and piano driven number. Peter Green, of the original Fleetwood Mac, wrote "Stop Messin' Around", adding to the number of original FM tunes this band has covered. Another cool, uptempo blues, with Green's traditional steals and more rockin' leads.

Closing out the set is the drone-y, acoustic slide, gospel influenced "Jesus is on the Main Line", again featuring Bonham to superb effect. I love this style of group vocals with minimalistic backings. Fantastic!

Absolutely their best and most consistent album since "Rocks", with perfect sound and excellent playing from everyone. If the boys did more like this, they would still be heralded as stars of heavy, hard rock.