The Upshot: The Thelonious Monster frontman and Dr. Drew collaborator offers a collection of new and old songs performed in stripped-down acoustic fashion.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Bob Forrest lived through the wars in the ’80s L.A. underground as part of Thelonious Monster, a notoriously stoned and disheveled wreck of a rock band that gigged with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone and others and made a handful of great records, including 1989’s Stormy Weather and 1992’s Beautiful Mess. Yet he’s most famous for conquering his bad habits, getting clean of a persistent and pernicious drug addiction in the mid-’90s and counseling other addicts, both on television with Dr. Drew and at his own rehab facilities, ever since. But he never gave up making music – since his redemption he’s released one further Thelonious Monster LP, an overlooked album by the one-off Bicycle Thief and one 2006 solo record.
Now, after mainly confining his musical endeavors to residencies and podcasts for a few years, Forrest finally hits the racks once again with Survival Songs, a collection of new and old songs performed in stripped-down acoustic fashion. Accompanied by acoustic guitars, the occasional trumpet and what sounds like an autoharp, Forrest keeps to sedate folk music as best he can, letting his words speak straightforwardly on “Song of the Songs,” “Anymore” and remakes of the Thief’s quietly devastating “Cereal Song” and Monster’s sardonic “Lena Horne Still Sings Stormy Weather.” But Forrest has never been the type to be polite when he feels something, and his pinched, cracked voice lets the passion out on “Not Going to Do It Again” (a reworked version of Thief’s “Hurt”), Monster’s “Body and Soul,” the seething “You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me” and the hopeful “Looking to the West.”
The tone is set immediately with a gnarly take on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave is Kept Clean,” a Forrest staple for most of his career, and a perfect example of defiance in the face of doom. But the denouement comes in the final track – the gentle “Truth, Chaos & Beauty” celebrates all three as the only constants in a life worth living. That kind of lesson only comes from experience, and Forrest uses his wisely to inform the soul ever-present in his voice and songs.
DOWNLOAD: “Body and Soul,”You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me,” “Truth, Chaos & Beauty”