(2013 Grooveyard Records)
CD Release Party: Dec. 14 at the Crystal Corner Bar
Mojo Radio is getting it done the old fashioned way. While most bands are resolving that they’ll just go it alone, Mojo went out and signed a deal with New York’s Grooveyard Records (home to artists such as Greg Koch, Chris Poland and other blues and blues/rock stalwarts from across the nation). They’ve also gone out and secured sponsors in Bud Light and UV Vodka. And while many artists are seeking the latest fad – or latest revival – to ride coattails, Mojo Radio has stuck with the tried and true: rock solid rhythm, inspiring blues/rock riffing and soulful, heartfelt vocals. To seal the deal they make the most out of vocalist Adam Ziertan’s exceptional harmonica (or as they like to call it – jaw harp) playing.
In another remarkable move, the band turned to a seasoned professional to work on the songs in pre-production, in this case Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos. Putting that much time and effort into this material makes Rise a labor of love. Even when the band suffered a tremendous personal loss when their friend and possible future collaborator Paulie Heenan was gunned down in November of 2012, they remained focused and true, maybe even gaining some added impetus to make this recording everything it could be. The band recorded an epitaph, both to the album and their friend, in “1109102,” a poignant and beautiful remembrance (You can read more about the song and the band’s contributions to Pauile’s Gift, the fund set up to benefit youth music programs in Heenan’s name here). “I’ve been let down / And I’ve been remiss/ But I’ve never seen / Heartbreak like this,” Zierten sings over plaintive acoustic guitar and ghostly slide guitar accents. The song is at once a Madison anthem and a rallying cry for justice.
Mojo Radio imbue the rest of Rise with a sustained intensity that is most impressive. But let’s begin where all recordings begin – the drums. Brent King turns in one astounding performance after another here, giving Rise the drive, determination and grit that puts it over the drop. In lockstep with King is bassist Scott Aumann. To understand the powerful groove these two can generate check out the brief but brilliant coda to “Death of Me.” Aumann also adds steel guitar and additional jaw harp on the album. Jason Peterson is a workhorse combining the zeal and heavy riffage of Jimmy Page with the balls-out passion of Angus Young. The guitar playing and overall approach harken back to the glory days of the Rolling Stones and the twin guitar tandem of Keith Richards and Mick Taylor whose influence has been so profound on nameless bands like the Black Crowes who could also be referenced as inspiration here.
Zierten establishes himself as one of the premier vocalists in the city with strong performances on every track. His Jimmy Swaggert-like intro to “Darken My Door” is hilarious as he implores us to “rock forward into the kingdom of heaven.” Both “Darken My Door” and “See it Through” benefit from guest keyboards by Erik Anderson. Jeff Massey, of Chicago’s Steepwater Band, adds lead guitar to the latter as well. “War Horse” is another strong track with powerful vocals and a cool drum intro from King. This one imforms the rest of the album with all facets of the band firing on all cylinders. Zierten saves his best for last though as “11092012” is simply too hard to top.
Rise was recorded in De Forest by Eric Katte who also works with Sunspot at his Barn 51 Studios. Though it’s a late-year entry it surely ranks as one of the top recordings of the year and one of the strongest to come out of the city in a while.