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Soledad Brothers bring it all back home

Soledad Brothers

Soledad Brothers - Voice of Treason
(Sanctuary Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Jan. 11, 2005

Review by Tony Bonyata

By interjecting some of their numbers (most notably "Goin' Back to Memphis") into his live set, The White Stripes' Jack White is often attributed to the success of fellow Detroit rockers the Soledad Brothers. But, in actuality, it's White (whose own career exploded three years ago) who was not only taught slide guitar by the Soledad Brothers, but also got his first behind-the-board studio experience when he was asked to produce the band's early singles.
Who deserves the spotlight more is irrelevant, however, as both acts stuff their musical gris-gris bags full of the noxious fumes of early '60s garage rock, as well as the dark, hoodoo properties of 1930s-era Delta blues.
The Soledad Brothers (guitarist / vocalist Johnny Walker, drummer Ben Swank and guitarist / saxophonist Oliver Henry) took their moniker from three convicted felons incarcerated at California's Soledad Prison who were charged with the murder of a guard in retaliation for the murder of three black activists at the prison on 1970. The threesome's image as revolutionaries was further solidified when one-time MC5 manager and late '60s White Panther Party activist John Sinclair influenced the band to use the White Panther's logo as their own.
While not as explosive as their hard-rocking Detroit forefathers The MC5, the sounds created by this band on their latest album, Voice of Treason, are stripped-down, raucous and rebellious reflections of early rock & roll peering through boogie-chillin' shades. From the incessant John Lee Hooker-inspired one-chord shuffle and minimalist dry-humping rhythm of "The Elucidator" to the barrelhouse piano and taunting harmonica that trade off on "Lowdown Streamline" it's obvious that, like the pioneers of rock & roll before them, their influences are derived directly from the seat of the Delta south. The band also covers the early '30s Skip James number "I'm So Glad," a song which Cream first revisited in the '60s. But unlike Clapton and company's lackluster take on the song, the Soledad Brothers interject a more playful, childlike innocence into it.
With an overall production that's as warm and inviting as it is murky and primitive, the Soledads rock it harder on the stomping call-and-response number "Lay Down This World," where Walker's gruff preaching is backed by a stinging slide guitar, as well as the Nuggets-era garage rock of "Ain't It Funny." And by whisking in so many flavors of American southern music (gospel, blues and even a bit of country) into their own rock & roll roux, the resulting recipe isn't much more than a skipping stone away from The Rolling Stones' own unique rereading of the south on their masterpiece Exile On Main Street.
While rock continues to evolve, de-evolve, morph, mutate and keep a straight face while doing the same old song and dance, it's always refreshing when something such as this brings us back to where it originally came from - only like we're hearing it for the first time.

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