Damon Fowler - Sugar Shack
12 songs; 49:16; Library Quality
Style: Americana, Roots Music, Swamp Rock, Blues-Rock and Roll
Here is the formula: start with a bright-eyed, witty, eager-to-learn teenager born with God-given musical talent; locate in Florida (America’s magical, musical mixing bowl); play records by Duane Allman, Bill Monroe, Lightning Hopkins, Danny Gatton, Hank Williams, and 50 others; hand him a guitar and show him a few chords; turn loose on the world. This result is an incredibly entertaining, down-to-earth singer, songwriter, and six-string - slide - lap steel guitarist named Damon Fowler.
On three occasions, I have seen the Damon Fowler Group (trio) perform live and win over audiences. While this CD is not recorded live, the impact is the same. In both live shows and on this Blind Pig debut, Fowler plays music that people particularly enjoy. Many songs make folks want to get up and dance, evidenced by the third gig. Fowler surprised me when he filled the dance floor more than once for an audience where people never dance! All three times folks were asking, “When is he coming back?”
Fowler’s ability to draw love from audiences, again both live and on this CD, comes from his genius Roots repertoire of originals and select covers, his winning vocal delivery, his amiable personality, and his completely catchy songs full of master picking, guitar hooks and real life lyrics that stuck in my mind for months.
When Fowler played last July for the Friends of the Blues in Central Illinois, he opened the show with a song that immediately epitomized why Damon Fowler gets rave reviews. The trio, same as on the CD: Chuck Riley-bass and Scott Key-drums, opened with a catchy, stomping rhythm pattern synthesized from an amalgam of Southern Rock’s best. Ten seconds later, sweet slide guitar grabbed ears and hearts. Ever since July, I have been searching for that song - not sure if it was a cover or an original. Voila, the search is over; it’s a Fowler’s original - track four, “Lonely Blues.” If I was producer Scott Cable, I would have been tempted to open this CD with it the way Damon opened the show.
Likewise, track 10, “Wrong Side of the Road,” lingered in memory but was unavailable on Fowler’s previous three self-releases. The grabber on “...Road” is a Latin rumba rhythm that carries the song. Scott Cable appears here on acoustic rhythm guitar and tambourine. The happy tempo is juxtaposed against the lyrics about haplessly being stranded in various bad situations.
This album’s three covers were plugged into that July evening’s two sets with uncanny foresight for results. Undoubtedly, Fowler’s many live gigs have allowed him adept timing for classics like Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me down.” Positioned as the eighth cut of twelve, “...Bottle...” hits this recorded set like the live set – perfect for a boozy stomp on the dance floor in defiance of memories of lost lovers. Brian Leach adds background vocals while Fowler deftly finger picks six-string twang.
To follow next, there’re a gazillion songs from which to choose, and Fowler selects another stick-in-your-mind, sing-a-long winner, “Third Rate Romance.” This late-night-drunk masterpiece, originally recorded by the Amazing Rhythm Aces, gives listeners a tasty helping of Fowler’s lap steel guitar. Pedal steel guitar is tricky to play, and lap steel is harder than Chinese arithmetic, but Damon shows mastery.
During the third cover, Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal,” grumbling blues purists are kicked out the door so that the exuberance of this roots music can be fully enjoyed.
Fowler opens the CD acoustically on “Some Fun” before an upbeat, smile inducing slice of America, “VFW” where women are warned, “the old man is out on the prowl.” The only slow songs are the introspective “I Hope It’s Gonna Rain,” and a sad ballad, “James.” “Sugar Lee” is a guitar driven remake from Fowler’s second CD where his slide solo nearly steals the show from his vocals. The title track reminisces with “Polk Salad Annie’s” flow as Damon plays a lap steel solo and reveals his favorite 4 o’clock-in-the-morning hangout where one can “get anything that you need,” especially a “sweet old time.” Some of the most melodic notes coaxed from his Telecaster are found in the solo on “Don’t Know Why I Love You.”
Fowler’s final song (“I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal”) foretells his musical legacy. The lyrics claim this “old chunk of coal” is “going to be a diamond someday.” With this CD and the support of a major label like Blind Pig, Fowler’s diamond days will come sooner rather than later!
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