The Straight Path - Chris Klondike Masuak & The North 40 (I-94 Bar Records)
Canadian-expat Aussie Chris “Klondike” Masuak’s the kind of guy who likes to put pictures of his guitars (Strat! Robin! Perspex Dan Armstrong! Firebird!) on his records (like his pal Deniz Tek did on his back-from-the-Navy career restarter “Take It to the Vertical:). One gets the sense that Klondike’s the kind of cat who just purely loves to play, and is as much of a fan as a muso.
While he first came to prominence as Dr.Tek’s guitar foil in the band that cleared the swamps and built the roads for the ‘80s Aussie punk juggernaut, it’s perhaps significant that he was a founder member of the Hitmen, who rode their Radio Birdman association to Antipodean mega-success in the early ‘80s, dabbled in that decade’s pop-metal with the Screaming Tribesmen (whom it’s hard to believe actually had a contract with Rykodisc Stateside, back when bands like the Hoodoo Gurus, Celibate Rifles, and Died Pretty actually toured America), and made forays into country (Chris Boy King & His Kamloops Swing), surf (the Raouls), and SRV-inspahrd blooze (the Juke Savages).
These days, when not playing with a resurgent Birdmen, Klondike gigs with RB fellow traveler Mark Sisto’s Detroit Actual. The phrase that might occur to the casual observer here is “all over the map.”
So the first half of “The Straight Path” is notable, then, for a surprising singularity of sound: at first flush, it’s a glossy ‘80s-style pop-rock record (producer-Birdman/New Christs frontguy Rob Younger and engineer Phil Punch got an uncharacteristically crystal-clear sheen this time out), replete with Beach Boys-inspahrd vocal harmonies that recall those on Birdman tracks like “Do the Moving Change” and “More Fun,” and a rhythmic insistence that gets a little monochromatic at times (for which I blame ex-Hitman DTK drummer Gye Bennetts, whose most nuanced performances occur on the “bonus tracks” at the end of the disc).
What distinguishes this music are a fondness for Near Eastern-sounding scales that harks back, again, to old and new Birdman (cf. “Alien Skies”), and Klondike’s guitar, which provides crunchy rhythm and fluid, inventive leads throughout. The lyrics express Masuak’s concerns with the state of the world and the human condition.
To these feedback-scorched ears, though, the sequencing of this program places all the high spots at the end, starting with Detroit daddy Scott Morgan’s cameo on “Original Sin,” continuing with “Sad Sad Prison,” which sounds like nothing so much as Blue Oyster Cult trying to pander to the SRV-loving locals in a Texas roadhouse, and the dervish reel “Traffic Jam,” with guest vocal from ex-Passengers front-gal Angie Pepper.
It’s appropriate that the triptych of ‘60s/early ‘70s power trio-styled pounders that close the disc are designated as bonus tracks, because they could almost be from a different record than the first half-dozen songs – one that I’d like to hear, in fact. Sure, they’re a throwback to the era of Mountain, Cactus, an’ like that, but that kind of blooze-drenched heaviosity seems to be undergoing a revival of sorts these days, and from the evidence here, Klondike has the goods to reinvent himself as an Aussie Randy Holden or something. I’m just sayin’, is all. - Ken Shimamoto
The Barman’s done the right thing here, and stepped back a bit from this, the debut release for I-94 Bar Records. Before anyone starts crying foul, let me just point out that I got this in a plain paper sleeve, with no bells and whistles, no incentives, and no pressure, either. OK? Let’s get into it.
If you really need the following thumbnail sketch of Chris Masuak’s career, you are probably in the wrong place. But just in case…
He was a teenager when he joined Radio Birdman on second guitar, before he shaped the sound of the Hitmen and then went on to play with the Screaming Tribesmen during their heyday. He’s since been involved in all the various recent RB activities, as well as playing in combos as diverse as Chris Boy King and the Kamloops Swing, the Juke Savages, the Raouls, and most recently Mark Sisto’s Detroit Actual.
That’s as diverse a body of work as you’ll find anywhere, I think.
But this is his first work with this solo band of the last few years. It’s been a long time in the making and that time shows in every note - without taking away any of the gut-level crunch, there’s a high degree of polish here. Rob Younger produced the initial recording, but the finished product is all Masuak’s, with the help of a handful of fellow veterans.
“Recipe For Disaster” is full tilt good time garage, with a classic opening line, too; ‘When Betty took her clothes off, God knows it should have been against the law”.
There’s a distinct whiff of psychedelia running through “Falling”, both in the classic ringing guitar sound and in the lyrics, although the solos still have plenty of bite.
There must be about six ideas at work in “Traffic Jam”- it starts with wailing Mid-Eastern prayers, before bringing in a sitar-like guitar, then underlaying that with some classic heavy fuzz…and all this before Angie Pepper’s smoky vocals come in to sing a note, and all gelling perfectly over the seven minute-plus running time.
The closing three (bonus) tracks are very different again- all in a classic Hendrix/Cream mould, with driving choppy riffs, a form a kind of bluesy closing mini-set, featuring Matt Sulman’s vocals on the final track, “Big Finned Cruiser”.
The more you listen to this, the more distinctive it becomes. Despite trawling across a wide range of styles and moods, there’s clearly a unifying force at work. One thing that’s missing is a personal choice- I have fond memories of him doing a solo version of Commander Cody’s “Lost In The Ozone” with the Tribesmen on odd occasions. Meh, you can’t have it all.
Does it sound like any of the bands in his past? No, not at all. But has every note he’s ever played had an influence on these tunes? Yes, definitely. And you’d expect nothing less.- TJ Honeysuckle