The Roads We Ride is a curious affair, in a way. It’s a repackaging as a double-cd set of two albums previously released individually – Stone Cold Beautiful and Running Wild – which together form the intertwined narrative of three characters trying to make their way in the expanse of America. On one level I ask myself why the double album is necessary, but hey – it’s a beautifully packaged affair, so let’s just go with the flow eh?
Billed as a film noir script, a concept album, a dime-store novel, this collaboration between Wily Bo Walker and E D Brayshaw tells the story of a femme fatale called Louise; Harry, the dirt farmer she runs out on; and Johnny, the ageing small-time singer she falls in with. Think of a mash-up between some Dust Bowl flick, Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, and Bonnie And Clyde, and you’ll get the idea. Maybe the storyline is a bit thin, but we’ll let that pass – never mind the rock opera, listen to the music.
|Wily Bo Walker, with the elusive E D Brayshaw nowhere to be seen|
Pic by Sally Newhouse
He sets the tone right from the intro to the opening ‘Storm Warning’, with characteristic stiletto sharp notes stabbing out the suitably stormy theme that will recur throughout the song, before Walker rumbles his way into the apocalyptic lyrics, leading up to a strong chorus underpinned by female backing vocals. It’s typical of a mood reminiscent of Dire Straits in epic, ‘Telegraph Road’ mode – except more fevered.
They cool things off effectively after that, with the faintly Latin, rumba-like swing of ‘I Want To Know’, and the well evoked seediness of ‘Motel Blues’, bringing to mind the down-at-heel road existence of Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake, somehow seducing Maggie Gyllenhall in Crazy Heart. Then after a decent reading of ‘Loan Me A Dime’, with Walker groaning away bluesily in very Tom Waits fashion, they get down to serious business with ‘September Red’.
Here, people, is an object lesson in how much you can get out of one good hook and an imaginative guitarist. The verse is pleasant enough, but what it mostly does is set up the captivating melody of the chorus, rounded out deliciously by swelling, almost choral female voices. After a couple of patient turns around that, Brayshaw then sets off on an extended
|Technicolor visuals for a cinematic soundtrack concept|
This though, is just a warm-up for the even larger canvas of ‘Killers On The Run’, a more intense affair that builds to the tag line “Stone cold beautiful” halfway through, before clearing the way for Brayshaw to set off on a searing, sweeping solo reminiscent of what Buck Dharma has often delivered for Blue Oyster Cult – and then downshifting into a ‘Samba Pati’ like closing segment. Epic is what Walker and Brayshaw often aim for, and epic it certainly is.
Highlights of the second CD include the Doors-like ‘Night Of The Hunter’, peppered with turbulent guitar, which gives way to the more laid back ‘Tennessee Blues’. Here a sweet, Knopfler-ish guitar riff is given added country twang by a pedal steel, creating an airy mood as a soundtrack for Harry’s reflections as he rides a train north. A Celtic-sounding riff is then the mainstay of ‘After The Storm’, helping to conjure up New York City.
If ‘The Ballad Of Johnny & Louise’ and ‘The Roads We Ride’ are both attempts at something summative, the latter is probably the more successful, its acoustic guitar underpinnings creating more sense of variety than the former, which is essentially more of epic same, though both feature typically imaginative lyrics from Walker.
The Roads We Ride is an ambitious affair, and Walker and Brayshaw should be applauded for it. Maybe they bite off a bit more than they can chew, but it’s an album buzzing with ideas, and it achieves the cinematic sweep to which they evidently aspired. Walker is a characterful singer, with a strong vision, while Brayshaw – whoever he is – delivers some excellent arrangements, topped off with fiery guitar. Two guys on a musical journey together – they make quite a combo.