Full Tilt Boogie by James Scott Bullard
by Lyndon Bolton
Tribute bands there are aplenty but I’m not so sure about tribute album reviews. Well, here’s one; a tribute to the Americana Music Show. I understand and respect Calvin’s news in what he said would be his final podcast (April 24). But I’m in no doubt how much I shall miss the rich seam of new, exciting artists and records Calvin has been unearthing since he started the show. As a listener for many years and reviewer since Calvin started including reviews on the site, I’d like to dedicate this review of Full Tilt Boogie by James Scott Bullard as a tribute to the Americana Music Show. -- Aww thanks Lyndon! -- Calvin
I’ve chosen Full Tilt Boogie because it is a perfect example of the many discoveries I’ve come to associate with the AMS, namely a blend of country, blues, rock or rolled into one; the real deal of Americana. James Scott Bullard may be new to me, but this is his sixth studio album. Either way, by his own admission it represents a change of direction lyrically away from as he put it, “a deliberate step-down from the ‘poor-me stuff”. He recognises his faults but doesn’t seek to hide or excuse these. Instead, lyrically, he still draws from a life led for much of the time on the edge.
This is southern rock, but the album’s title, while wonderful, doesn’t really tell the whole story. Bullard blends the full range of southern influences, so there’s country, blues, a hint of bluegrass and gospel as well. On first hearing this I immediately thought of Skynyrd.
To start the album, ‘Lord, Have Mercy’ opens with a crashing chord sequence, a prowling slide and Bullard pleading for mercy in a drawl redolent of the great Van Zant himself. The chorus reverberates with backing singers and keys. To gain attention Bullard doesn’t cough politely but delivers a full blown punch fright between the eyes.
Upping the pace, ‘Wicked Ways’ is a frenetic confession of having lived fast and loose like his dad “until one morning, the preacher told me/boy, you’re going straight to hell”. Bullard’s response? “I said preacher, when you get to heaven/ have the good lord forward my mail”. Yet around a brief solo from each of his band, Bullard admits that one day he might “give up my wicked ways”.
A languid slide is such a hallmark of the southern sound and that comes out deliciously on ‘All To Pieces’ courtesy of guitarist, Jeff Springs. ‘Hey, Hey, Mama’ is where the boogie kicks in, this time with slide weaving in and out of the thumping rhythmn. Bullard notches up a gear mid-song in ‘Warpath’, as he reflects, “there ain’t no rest for the wicked with that mean old woman in my head”.
Can there be a better titled song for this album than, ‘Jesus, Jail, or Texas’? The heavier guitars are given a rest which allows more room for Bullard’s voice which he harmonises to great effect with his backing singers.
Harking back to southern heroes, ‘The Next Year’ is pure Marshall Tucker Band (‘Blue Ridge Mountain Sky’). This is my pick of the album, its brisk pace sends Bullard on his way after another break-up. “I’ll be gone before the next tear hits the ground”. Running that a close second is is ‘Back to You’ which continuing that MTB vibe, finishes this fine record. Bullard’s fabulously rich musicians gather round him as they head off down the highway. This is definitely driving music.
Waving flags is a hazardous business these days but James Scott Bullard is a deserved standard bearer of the southern rock tradition. Drawing on impeccable sources he has created his own original, authentic style that flies high above some very pale imitations of one of music’s finest genres.
Full Tilt Boogie is a perfect example of everything the Americana Music Show has meant to me. Thanks Calvin. -- Thank YOU for all your insightful reviews.