Artist: Big Daddy T
Album: Judas Goat
Release date: August 1, 2018
The deal. Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, of all people, first drew my attention to the beauty of a nice, rickety blues. He started talking about it in guitar magazines, some time after The Black Album, and it stuck with me. A lot of the older, classic blues sides sound like everyone is somehow playing behind the beat, which creates a tension. Songs feel like they might fall apart at any moment. It feels as scary as a car with no driver. And it’s also exciting. Like watching a car with no driver. Once I read Hammett’s observation, I had the words to describe what separated classic blues from blues rock. And I understood that while tightness is great in rock and metal, there’s also a liberation in seeing the downbeat as just another object ahead in the distance and not a destination. Big Daddy T take a similar view on their debut, Judas Goat.
The songs have a wonderful ambient quality. You can hear the space of their recording studio. On “Nothing Left to Do But Cry,” the vocals sound like they’re coming from the next room, while the guitar is so up-front it practically makes the track shake. It winds up making you feel like you’re at a live show in a small club. I’m not sure if these were recording choices or production challenges, but it gives the track a timeless feel.
Bassist/singer Tony Wisler also has an interesting voice. It doesn’t have the god-like resonance of the blues masters. It’s thin but he manages to wring an impressive amount of emotion and commitment out of it. The vocals also tend to sit just a bit back in the mix, giving the impression that Wisler’s fighting to be heard. It usually works well, like on “Simon Pure Labrick Blues,” a 1960s style blues with some stinging guitar courtesy of Billy Burke and a sprinkling of piano from W. Micheal Lewis. It’s loose and fun.
Straight talk. The band covers a lot of bluesy styles. There’s “Jockey Full of Bourbon,” a Tom Waitts cover that’s prettier than the original, relying on an expansive bed of piano and a melody that nearly veers into Judaica. “God’s Not Dead” is a ragtime blues, also anchored by piano, but that also features a lead clarinet. The resulting tune is the score for a soulful and obviously imaginary Woody Allen movie. There’s not a signature song on the album. Even the sounds vary from track-to-track. The common, and delightful, thread is how locked in the band is. You can hear the personality of every instrument loud and clear, but it all fits together in a nice, warm way.
The confession. I got a bunch of older download links from a PR person. I always appreciate it when PR people keep pushing for an artist, even after their album has been released. A good album is still good after its release date. It’s sort of the reason for this site. So I don’t feel guilty about missing this one. I’m just happy to have found a cool band and hope I hear more from Big Daddy T.
Closing arguments. The publicity materials for the album include a quote from Wisler saying “We’re a band that loves the blues, but the blues don’t define us.” It’s a great way to explain what’s so enjoyable about this album. It’s not always blues structurally, but it’s got a blues-influenced looseness. The album has a lot of air, which makes it feel alive. Unfortunately, I don’t speak for Hammett, but I strongly suspect he’d like this album, too.
So much amazing music comes out all of the time. I review what I can as quickly as I can, working my physical and digital piles as efficiently as possible, but things fall between the cracks. Rather than giving up on things that are a little past their prime, contemporary-review-standards-wise, I’m going back for the overflow that deserves to be heard — even if it’s a little late.