11 songs; 48:44 minutes; Library
There is truly something special going on here with this band and their debut album. From an April 2 appearance on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to a sold out show at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago to an upcoming September date on “Austin City Limits,” three guys barely in their twenties from the Isle of Man are grabbing attention all over the US and world, well beyond their British home. They are currently on a summer long tour of the US and Canada.
Their debut CD is an impressive set full of attention grabbing, “who-is-that-singing?” vocals by Davy Knowles. With clear, distinct enunciation that is rare, Knowles’ voice is simultaneously fresh and seasoned beyond his age and completely versatile in range and power. The album features moving blues, heads up rockers, and poignant ballads that makes Back Door Slam one of the year’s most interesting arrivals capable of linking all good music across any expanse of time.
Since this is a “Blues” publication, we might as well set the record straight up front: For all the adulations, the truth is BDS will be controversial in the blues community. Clearly BDS is more rock than blues and will be considered by many to not be blues at all.
But, we may just be witnessing the beginning of a blues revival that hasn’t happened since Stevie Ray Vaughan and, before that, the 1960s. Davy Knowles, Adam Jones, and Ross Doyle are well schooled in the blues and are a generation of young lions breathing life into it. To package blues music in a pop shell recorded with reverbs and incredibly lush guitar tones is the reason they will catch on with people, especially young people.
On the other side of the coin, that creates a potential problem. While Back Door Slam creates a whole new audience for the blues, “the blues” will have meanings in the minds of many it never had before. Certain styles can fall off and have less appeal. For example, none of the younger BDS fans will know who Paul Butterfield was, but they can start reading and digging.
In 1967, I didn’t know who Robert Johnson was either when the Rolling Stones (the hot new band of the day) sang “Love In Vain.”
Back Door Slam are Davy Knowles (acoustic and electric guitars, vocal, mandolin, lap steel), Ross Doyle (drums) and Adam Jones (bass), all brought up on an appetite of everything blues. The result is a sound reminiscent of the blues greats but with a nod to the influential modern music and songwriters they love: Clapton, Knopfler, Mayall, and Mayer. "Roll Away" was recorded at DAM Studios in Douglas, the principal city on the Isle of Man, and produced by Dave Armstrong. All songs are Davy Knowles originals except one cover of a Cream number.
The album opens with “Come Home,” a catchy all-out blues-rocker that is fast becoming a favorite on radio stations across America. This is the track they played on Jimmy Kimmel Live that second-handedly brought them to my attention. Kicking off with a creative bass hook, the song is the complete package for popularity: clicking rhythm in the quiet spaces, harmonious vocal a cappella passages, sweet repeating guitar riffs, all summing up the protagonist’s desire to reunite with his lover.
My favorite song is track 4, “Gotta Leave.” A blues number that has a slow, single note picked guitar opening, it builds in intensity and heartache. Showing off some pretty good song-writing, Knowles wails, “Ooh, you must have got me CAWN-fused with some other man... / Tell me: how can I trust you when you can’t trust your self?” Knowles’ killer mid-song guitar solo talks without words to the listener, perfectly explaining the protagonist’s anguish as he must leave a disloyal partner.
Track 5 is a Celtic-folk acoustic number, the likes of which separate Back Door Slam from mere guitar slingers. Instead of more sonic assault, here is a thoughtful and sad dedication to Richard Brookes and Brian Garvey, a rhythm guitarist who was one of the founding members of the band killed in a 2004 car crash. “Too Good For Me” is another acoustic song while “Too Late” combines acoustic and electric.
“Heavy on My Mind,” track 2, is full bodied and amplified rock which, following track 1, suggests that is all you get – until tracks 4 and 5. “Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me” becomes a catchy sing-a-long phrase by the second listen. “Outside Woman Blues,” the only cover on the album, recapitulates the boys as the power trio Cream. “Takes A Real Man” showcases more guitar hero fretwork and is also presented in an alternate version as a bonus, track 11.
The title track, “Roll Away,” is an acoustic folk-bluesy number addressing a dilemma of living in such a desirable but off-the-beaten-path locale as the Isle of Man. Knowles sings, “I’ve got to Roll away/Maybe I’ll return to this island some day.”
In interviews the boys talk about performing live as an overwhelming desire. The rest of the world is the better for it when the boys left the island and brought their music to us. Check them out yourself or just keep your ear to the ground, and you’ll hear that Back Door Slam!
Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL