There must be something in the water lately. The last year or so has seen a welcome glut of excellent roots flavoured albums – Mia Dyson’s jagged and soulful The MomentClaude Hay’s country-blues ass-kicker I Love Hate You; and now Tombstone Bullets from Johnny Cass and his Band.

Each release is highly distinctive and a keen distillation of their sound: Dyson’s heart-ripping vocal is more harrowing than ever, Hay’s junk-shop boogie is as juicy as it will get and Johnny Cass sounds as if has really found his thing.

Johnny-Cass-2Even though Tombstone Bullets is the debut of his Band, John Cass has been bothering the higher quality end of Australian blues for years – from earlier blues-rockers Parker, through The Widowbirds with Simon Meli, right up to the current Muddy Waters Tribute shows he shares with luminaries such as Dom Turner, Kevin Bennett and Ian Collard.

As already suggested, Tombstone Bullets sounds like a culmination of Cass’s artistry and craft – not the culmination, as any true artist never stops growing. That said, the styles and playing on the album seem so right that I hope Cass stays in this zone for another, say, two or three albums at least.

Opener ‘Sun Goes Down’ sets up a warm country chug for a blues muso’s mission statement – ‘When your day is ended/Mine has just begun…’. The flawless and tricky clawhammer guitar parts set out the virtuoso’s stall for what is to come.

Yet even though are more than enough jaw-dropping moments from the album’s guitarists, shredding takes a backseat to the songs throughout the album. Which is as it should be, especially with songs this strong.

The nine originals (the album also finishes with a humidly atmospheric take on Bruce Springsteen’s noir mood-piece ‘Open All Night’) – all written or co-written by Cass – cover blues, country, soul and rock, often mixing all together into a piquant and heady-heavy gumbo.

‘Open At Sunset’ is Motown four-beat soul-stomp; ‘Rather Be Here’ is banjo-powered country jig; ‘Keep Your Lamplight Alive’ is a greasy slice of Humble Pie-flavoured fuzz rock.Johnny-Cass-1

All the songs hit the hot spot and, in ‘Holdin’ On’, Cass has penned a stone classic. A languid soul-rock trip, with heavy guitars wreathing the song in curtains of blue-black night, ‘Holdin’ On’ builds through several peaks of gospel intensity. Cass’s vocal is superb here, cracking and rasping at just the right points.

I truly believe ‘Holdin’ On’ is worthy of being up there with eternal Australian songs such as ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ or ‘Flame Trees’. But what do I know? I’ve been wrong before – but in this case I really do hope I’m right.

Tombstone Bullets is, all up, worthy of making a real dent in the Australian blues and roots catalogue. Its eclecticism and tougher rock edge on some songs will widen its appeal beyond the often purist roots scene, which can’t be a bad thing. Tombstone Bullets is a good thing – take a listen. Buy it. Vote for Cass.

Tombstone Bullets is out August 1 2013. Album purchase and tour details are at www.johnnycass.com

Tombstone Bullets cover artist, Sindy Sin’s website is www.sindysinn.com.au

Published July 2013 on theorangepress.net

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