June 20, 2013

CD Review: If it's punkish blues-rock you crave, here's a Whale of a fix

These guys bring on the rock with gruff vocals; thin, shimmery guitars; a punchy, in the pocket bass; and powerful work on the skins.


If you are feeling a little deprived and parched of some good old punk blues-rock, the Portland-based trio Whale Oil can fill the prescription for your ill. Besieging us with their crunchy, wailing and forceful garage band music, the band's self-titled eight-song debut hits you in just the right spot.

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Based on a four-star scale

After about the second listen through, I realized that the first three-quarters of the CD was filled with much staccato-infused punk guitar riffs and impressive high-tempo drumming.

But then the album takes a turn in "Hadlock Field," which highlights the band's blues-rock influence reminiscent of Led Zeppelin with some tasty melodic guitar by Bill Scanlin, who also shares the spotlight with drummer Brian Saxton for lead vocals on some songs.

The one exception to the punk/blues formula is the fourth song, "Senses," which was built on a slower three-quarter time signature and provides a nice little break in energy. The band patiently puts together a great groove, and uses some very interesting guitar voicings. One downfall is Saxton's voice, which is on the edge at times and pushes the limits of what is acceptable.

"Towards the End" opens up with a sweet groove featuring bassist McCrae Hathaway, who shows off his prowess and creativity. You might think Saxton and Scanlin would try to keep up energy-wise with Hathaway's dynamic bass lines, but the song surprisingly sets back right in the easy/fun groove pocket and pretty much stays there, with the exception of that groovy bass line resurfacing a few times.

"Lights Out" reminds me of the roots of every rock musician at some point -- the garage -- with its nasty bass lines and irreverently noisy six-string work. When the solo hits, it's almost as if to say, "this is where the solo goes, and I couldn't care less what you want."

"Released" has a bit of a country feel. Unless you were paying attention to the irreverent tone of the CD up to this point, it's a tune that might seem incongruent with the rest. "Oh, I need a remedy from the same old song that I sing" -- well played.

These guys bring the rock on for sure -- gruff vocals; thin, shimmery guitars; a punchy, in the pocket bass; and powerful work on the skins. Rock 'n' roll basics.

Kristin DiCara-McClellan is a Portland freelance writer.


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