The Upshot: Rousing, rowdy, rockin’ concert disc from last summer that finds the guitarist showcasing his Lakeside album, plus surprises.
BY FRED MILLS
Let’s state this up front: Any artist who opts for a Swamp Dogg cover as a set-closer has a seriously big set of huevos, and better be prepared to deliver the musical goods.
I have it on good authority that erstwhile Del-Lords/Steve Earle & the Dukes guitarist Eric Ambel has long been in possession of the aforementioned danglers—this is based on interviews I’ve conducted with his peers, reviews I’ve read that my own peers have authored, and a few random one-on-one encounters I’ve had with the dude. As to the latter, well… the guitarist, songwriter, producer, and cyclist known to most of us as just Roscoe wraps up his August 27, 2016, set at Livestock with nothing less than a positively torching version of tha Dogg’s already-incendiary “Total Destruction to Your Mind”—as in, he’s gonna apply his sonic-psychic wrecking ball—and between him, fellow axeman Mo Goldner, bassist Keith Christopher, and drummer Phil Cimino, there’s not a riff left unriffed, a beat left unthumped, a vocal note of exuberance left, um, unexuberated.
This is rock ‘n’ roll unbridled, folks. Small wonder that Ambel’s “Roscoe” logo that people may be familiar with from his website or production work is a silhouette of a Stetson-waving cowboy astride a bucking bronc.
Ambel, then, here ushers in what promises to be an ongoing series of live releases, with this 2016 performance spotlighting material from his most excellent album from spring of that same year, Lakeside (reviewed HERE, incidentally), which was produced by his friend Jimbo Mathus. Among the standouts: twangy, swingin’ honky-tonker “Here Come My Love,” penned by another Ambel pal, Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner; the brooding, psychedelic “Don’t Make Me Break You Down,” which features some ungodly, nasty, lead fretwork that would earn a salute from Neil Young; and beautiful choogler “Have Mercy,” intro’d by Ambel as his “disco song,” but to these ears is midtempo power-pop-meets-John-Fogerty.
And let us not overlook Ambel’s adroitness at plucking choice covers from the musical astral plane. Here, the brilliant Gillian Welch/David Rawlings-penned “Look At Miss Ohio,” a standout on Lakeside, gains gravitas in its transition from studio to stage (wait’ll you hear the guitar duel); and of course there’s that Swamp Dogg number lurking in the wings to wrap things up.
As the “Vol. 1” designation simply affords we fans a comfortable “to be continued…” alert, I’ll leave my commentary until the next installment. After all, this Roscoe dude, he ain’t selling out—he’s buying in!
DOWNLOAD: “”Have Mercy,” “Look at Miss Ohio,” “Total Destruction to Your Mind”