Mystery Train – Chickenstones (Crankinhaus Records)
This is one angry sounding record. Its 11 songs seethe and burn with fuzzed-up, roaring guitars and are propelled by an engine room whose controls are set for the carpark just outside the Gates of Hell.
That’s a place with which Chickenstones main man Andy “Doc” Temple Ellard has become familiar over the last 18 months. In early 2018, he and the band were riding high on the back of a new album, “Johnny Streetlight”, and preparing for a tour of Europe when Doc got a tap on the shoulder from some fucker called Cancer.
Now, that prick comes in many guises and the kind that came cold-calling was especially nasty and persistent. Doc is a Registered Nurse so he had an understanding of what would be involved, but all the forewarning in the world doesn’t make the fight physically easier. Many rounds of treatment later, Doc’s emerged at the other end - with shorter hair and a deeper suntan - and he’s still looking over his shoulder.
Maybe most of the songs themselves aren’t overtly about that fight - with the exception of the harrowing “Crawling King Snake” - but the best lyrics let you interpret their messages and draw your own conclusions.
And while we’re not about to tell you what to think, here’s one simple deduction: “Mystery Train” is a great record in its own right, packed with dirty blues rock.
Opener “Acid Rain” sets it up from the outset. Phil Van Rooyen, who shares guitar and vocal duties with Doc, delivers a grim tale about a girl who’s wasted and on the fast-track downhill. Russell Pilling’s production packs a massive wallop and the impact is immediate.
Doc takes the mic for “You Got a Right” and if you’re thinking anybody’s wallowing in their own blues, consider the first line:
Don’t start believing that this world is only unfair. It’s not unfair, no.
“Gasoline” is a jolting blues-wailer, an ode to a girl that’s peppered with harmonica and spicy guitar licks. “Hooks in Me” is its companion piece and just as good. “I Gotta Move” launches from a springboard of muted guitar snarl and is as slinky as they come. It’s a true bluesman’s lament.
If you think the album’s just pent-up agression you’re wrong. The title track is placed at the mid-point and becomes the centrepiece. It’s a nuanced and considered piece of music, almost gentle in contrast to what’s gone before. There are shades of surf in the crystalline but tough guitars and Van Rooyen’s vocal is a beauty.
The matter of fact “Ball and Chain” is another relationship song and rocks like an early Tatts tune. Girl songs abound, in fact. Most of the women within are courting fate or someone (or sometimes both.) They’re not victim songs, however, and acknowledge that it takes two to tango.
The jagged lead-break in “First Light” vies with bassist Jim Kelly and drummer Paul Worth’s muscular feel to be its stand-out feature.
“Mystery Train" is a fine addition to a tradition of guitar-drenched Oz rock but it’s closer to Ian Rilen & the Love Addicts than AC/DC. Stellar artwork by Ben Brown and it comes in a slimline cardboarf cover so it won;t cost you much for shipping. Consider you’ve been told it’s one of the very best local releases for this year - that’ll make clicking on the link below to buy it all that much more guilt-free.