Wreckage From The Fire

Aaron Skiles

Dr. Sam G Records, 2022


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It’s another advantage the album has over any other known approach to presenting new music: sometimes an album ends up feeling greater than the sum of its parts.

Until last year, Aaron Skiles fronted the San Francisco Bay Area indie rock / alt-country band Bourbon Therapy along with his wife Rebecca. When the pandemic made live shows impossible for two years, BT went on ice, but Skiles kept writing, discovered the new songs didn’t really fit into the Bourbon Therapy framework anyway, and sketched out a new solo album.

In that process, Skiles hooked up with ace guitarist Taylor Hollingsworth (of Conor Oberst’s band and many solo tunes) and booked into Dial Back Sound, the studio managed by Matt Patton of the Drive-By Truckers and his partner Bronson Tew. With bassist Patton and drummer Tew on board as his rhythm section, with the DBT’s Jay Gonzalez adding piano and keys, and with Patton contributing so many ideas he ended up with co-writing credits on six of these eight tunes, Skiles suddenly had a fresh and supremely talented new band to bring his new tunes to life.

This lineup, it must be said, rocks like nobody’s business, creating a vibe of brash, loud, slightly ragged but ultimately majestic indie-rock that draws heavily from the classics, with echoes and strains of bands from the Kinks and the Stones to Led Zeppelin and Social Distortion evident in its overamped sonics and electrified blues-punk drive.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opener “Quarandream” is a loose, melodic jam that functions much like an overture: here’s what you’re getting, dig? Everything is mixed loud, from the fat guitars to the pumping bass and drums to the splashy cymbals. The wordless jam segues directly into “Come With Me,” which feels like it belongs on the same album with the original 1964 Kinks recording of “You Really Got Me”; it’s all bruising chords and attitude-rich vocals. When Hollingsworth comes in for a brash, driving solo you can’t help hearing a little Jimmy Page in its bloozy bones.

“A Triumph Of Three Chords” slows things down a bit, adds piano, and layers the vocals, giving them a chorused feel. The whole concoction has somewhat of a Badfinger vibe with the gentler vocals and supple piano counter-pointing the fuzzed-out guitars and bashing drums, until the rangy bridge/solo carries the song off in a fresh direction using the same ingredients, a fitting choice for a playful number celebrating the pure joy of making music.

The album’s most personal song—written for a college friend who committed suicide—“Before You Go” comes on like a Southern-fried weeper of a blues ballad, but repeatedly erupts into squalls of raging guitar, a charismatic number whose greasy swagger sweeps you up and carries you along. First single “Love & Guilt” straddles the decades sonically, with lush harmonies out of a ’60s radio single, beefy guitars that feel distinctly ’70s Southern rock, and a piercing synth line full of ’80s sass; it’s a frothy combination that leads into another extended, crunchy guitar solo. The major elements all feel like they’re from different songs, but somehow it works.

The Stones/Kinks influence comes to the fore on “Sliver” as the band punches hard through a cycling riff as Skiles pleads “I’ve got a sliver of you in my skin / Oh, just leave it in.” Penultimate track “On My Own” comes on aggro and sloppy enough to approach punk status while retaining a solid melodic foundation. “I Believe,” the memorable closing tune on this tight 28-minute set, is bold and anthemic, injecting rootsy British Invasion-influenced country-rock flavorings with the instrumental dynamics of a lost Cream number.

Much like with the recently reviewed Pete Mancini album Killing The Old Ways, the Patton/Tew production team/rhythm section makes a substantial impact here, giving these songs a sense of muscle and swagger that brings out the best in track after track. Wreckage From The Fire is an audacious joyride through six decades of influences that ultimately lands someplace fresh and new, and I am here for it.

Rating: B+

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