THE GREAT AFFAIRS – Ricky Took The Wheels

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Any band that mentions The Black Crowes in their bio are likely to get my attention. In the case of Tennessee’s Great Affairs, bassist Matt Andersen “only needs his Black Crowes bootlegs to survive”. The Great Affairs may cull their sound from various rootsy sounding bands, but on this second album ‘Ricky Took The Wheels’, it’s not really the Crowes who are the over-riding influence. You’ll certainly hear traces of the Black Crowes moments within the album’s twelve cuts, but no more than you might hear an influence from the latter day work of Replacements or any other number of semi-acoustic/jangly retro outfits.
None of the tracks on ‘Ricky Took The Wheels’ are particularly groundbreaking, but within its grooves, Smith and co offer twelve songs of familiar pop/rock which stand up well to repeated listens.

‘Feels Like Home’ opens the album with a decent upbeat number, full of retro jangling guitars. The music recalls ‘Don’t Tell a Soul’ era Replacements, with its great chiming chords occasionally overlaid by slide guitar. The music may have a familiar ring, but Denny Smith’s slightly ragged vocals ensure they don’t sound like clones of Minneapolis’s favourite sons. Part of the main opening riff from ‘Inside Your Head’ resembles The Black Crowes number ‘Remedy’, but that’s as far as any real influence goes. For the verses, The Great Affairs settle on a funky groove. Smith’s vocal performance is well suited to the arrangement and Andersen lends an unobtrusive harmony vocal where required. Its punchy approach makes it one of the album’s stand-outs. With a mid-paced delivery, ‘No Heart Left To Hold’ showcases The Great Affairs in a very comfortable musical setting. With uncomplicated acoustic guitars and the return of the slightly countrified slide, The Great Affairs deliver a great piece of roots rock, which, although lacking a big hook, has a very pleasing sound, with Patrick Miller’s electric guitar work providing the best feature.

‘Good Flyin’’ begins with a rumbling bass intro from Andersen, soon accompanied by a few unfussy guitar chords. Anchored by Tim Good’s basic drum pattern, this is a snapshot of The Great Affairs in a more moody setting. While the bass carries the greatest presence during this number, it’s the occasional guitar fills which create it’s best musical moments – the retro bluesy tone calls to mind a slight Hendrix influence, but more discerning listeners may hear an influence from Audley Freed, (particularly from his work on the first Cry of Love disc, ‘Brother’). The Great Affairs follow this relative aggression with a track which is almost the polar opposite: ‘You’ll Never Know’, has a strong acoustic base, and with the acoustics overlaid by subtle electric twangs, this provides a really intimate moment for the album. A hushed, slightly cracked vocal from Smith only highlights the fragile nature of the song; it’s a great number, on which, the reserved performances from all concerned should be applauded.

The stomping nature of ‘You’re Not Funny’ comes with a sharp edge and a sneer which would befit Tommy Stinson’s Bash & Pop (whose sole album is a great mix of Stones fixated material with a hint of attitude borrowed from New York Dolls). The twin guitar attack from Denny Smith and Patrick Miller is instantly attention-grabbing, and the song barely lets up over the course of its four minutes. I’m a sucker for trashy rock ‘n’ roll ethics – and like that aforementioned Bash & Pop disc, this more than fits the bill. ‘Bastard Son’ captures The Great Affairs rocking out in a retro way, it’s mix of acoustic and electric guitars creating a sound which evokes the classic rock/pop of The Connells during their more upfront moments. It features one of Smith’s best vocals; he sounds perfectly at home fronting this simple, gently rocky arrangement. Once again, it’s nothing you won’t have heard before with regard to this particular musical niche, but it’s played very well. For guitar playing highlights, the finger-picked acoustic work on ‘My Apologies’ is recommended listening. This low-key number rolls along with the intricate guitar work taking the lead, as the band’s rhythm section take a back seat. As with the album’s other quiet moments, Smith’s vocal style finds a sympathetic place within the arrangement.

On the whole, while this album may not sound wholly original, it has plenty of heart. The Great Affairs show a high level of enthusiasm and have the ability to pen decent tunes. if you own albums by The Connells or any similar semi-acoustic rock/pop bands, ‘Ricky Took The Wheels’ could be for you.

Visit The Great Affairs here.

November 2010

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