VARIOUS ARTISTS – Burn On The Bayou: A Heavy Underground Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival

Unless you happen to be Robert Pollard/Guided By Voices or Buckethead and have a blatant disregard for quality control, recording and releasing eight studio albums over a five year period is probably really difficult, if not impossible. Creedence Clearwater Revival not only managed that task between 1968-1972, but in ‘Green River’, ‘Willy & The Poorboys’, and ‘Cosmo’s Factory’, they managed to deliver a trio of cast iron classics. The latter is an album still beloved by millions; a soundtrack to a generation.

It helped that John Fogerty was an amazing songwriter. In the pantheon of great American songwriters, he’s probably only beaten by Leiber/Stoller, Holland/Dozier/Holland, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. It’s every musician’s dream to write a song for which they’ll be remembered; a tune that lives on in to the next generation and beyond. Even if one of them isn’t immediately associated with him, Fogerty has arguably written four: Creedence’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’, ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘Up Around The Bend’, and his 1975 solo number ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’. A couple of these are numbers that have not only graced oldies radio – seemingly forever – but have appeared on the soundtracks of some great films and TV shows. Fogerty’s music is part of our fabric, and deservedly so.

With that in mind, it might seem like sacrilege to allow a bunch of second tier stoner and doom bands loose on the Creedence catalogue but, bored of endless Sabbath themed tributes, the guys at Ripple Music decided to stick their collective neck out and try something a little different. To their credit, the end results are…interesting.

One of this collection’s more famous names, Roadsaw have been cranking out the riffs since the 90s, and their take on ‘Sinister Purpose’ latches onto a great sound. Although nothing has been done to alter the original riff and basic melody, a huge layer of distortion and a world of wah-wahed lead guitars go a long way to making this sound like one of the band’s own tunes. The lead work, in particular, is amazing, and the main riff now has so much extra volume, you can hear it breaking up with distortion. Sure, it’s all stoner rock 101, but it shows how the genre never gets old, especially when left in safe hands. This stands alongside 20 Watt Tombstone’s version of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ as one of the best stoner blues jams ever.

One of the bigger surprises is that ‘Proud Mary’ actually works well as a stoner infused piece. Lightning Born trade in the southern swagger for riffs that sound like amped up version of classic Kyuss working classic Sabbath, before dropping into a deep psych solo where twin lead guitars lend some extra retro charm. The music is great, but in many ways, it’s the vocals that make the track, and Brenna Leath’s performance has all the power of a peak Linda Hoyle. It’s very much the kind of cover that’ll make you want to hear more from Lightning Born if you’re not already familiar, and the same goes for High Priestess, who apply a clean and haunting vocal throughout their version of ‘Bad Moon Rising’ to great effect. It says so much that a great vocal makes this work on its own merits, since the music itself is almost devoid of any real melody. That, of course, won’t be at all off-putting to the hardened doom metal fan; it might even be seen as a plus point, and with the help of funereal pacing, some oppressively heavy sounds and the weight of the world behind a slow, pounding drum, these musicians take the two minute tune and drag it across six minutes of almost impenetrable doom. The ultimate in sludgy minimalism with a guitar solo thrown in, CCR’s most famous number is now unrecognisable, in the best possible way. In reaching for such extremes High Priestess have ensured they’ll be remembered long after listening and are sure to stand out, despite this double disc set offering a massive amount of material.

Great Electric Quest are no strangers to a tribute album, having already contributed to a Budgie themed offering a few months before this disc was released. A band with a classic metal fixation, it was always likely to be interesting to see how they would approach a Fogerty tune, but ‘Down On The Corner’ goes against pre-conceptions. The music has been transposed to a strange semi-mechanical rhythm, and the guitar work slides between a weird stoner vibe and some deep psych. The tune remains familiar, but its played in a semi-sloppy way that listeners will either love or hate, while an affected vocal sounds, rather unexpectedly, like the work of Tripping Daisy’s Tim De Laughter. Whatever your opinion of the rather chaotic end result, you can’t say they haven’t made it their own. Taking more of a blues rock stance, Stubb’s version of ‘Green River’ is superb. They’ve slowed it by about a third to allow for some moody guitar tones and fiery solos – more in keeping with a Joe Bonamassa recording – and a very retro organ, playing up a storm behind a melodic, bluesy cry. Giving their standard blues rock sound a real kick, a very live drum sound brings a little more energy to the mid-tempo piece, and its impossible not to be impressed by the very natural feel the track now has, especially when a twin lead sound more akin to Ted Nugent’s ‘Stranglehold’ is employed to fill the fade.

A fair bit more challenging – though fairly safe compared to High Priestess – Stonebirds take the once gorgeous ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ and twist it into a three minute sludge-fest, where drawled lead vocals are augmented with haunting whispers. In terms of pure heaviness, this is one of the comps most uncompromising tracks, since it starts with a sheer weight of riffs. From there, a vague semblance of the original tune crawls bravely towards its impending doom with the help of a funereal drum beat and some really angry blues guitar. The strange thing is, though, if you can see past the actual root of the song – and those ingrained feelings for ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ – it’s sort of fascinating. Ugly, yes, but fascinating, nonetheless. Whether you’d choose to listen to it more than a couple of times is a different matter. Carrying a fair bit of weight and a semi-sludgy sound, Curse The Son’s ‘Effigy’ really brings out the ominous tones from the original song, and makes a bigger feature of its darker tones via a strong harmony vocal. With a slight southern twang, everything sounds like a heavier version of Black Stone Cherry, augmented with heavy blues solos. It isn’t actually any slower than Fogerty intended – just heavier – but isn’t actually any the worse for that.

Best avoided, Horseburner drag ‘Hideaway’ across five torturous minutes, making its riff sound like something from old Conan tunes played with no finesse, whilst a man absolutely canes his throat for an ugly vocal. Even with an unfamiliar tune in tow, this band would be a hard sell to anyone bar the most ardent sludge fiend, and its only with the arrival of a twin guitar sound near the end that this recording in any way improves. It’s fairly evil, but the likelihood of this tribute being enjoyable from front to back was always slim. Luckily, Hot Spring Water are sequenced directly afterwards, and their recording of ‘Born On The Bayou’ works rather nicely and makes a great feature of slightly distorted, bluesy guitars working through the familiar riff at a slightly slower tempo. The slowing down allows for a more spacious feel, and for a hard edged blues rock vocal to chew through a great lyric. The recording really comes into its own during the instrumental break, though, where some perfectly pitched blues rock/stoner guitar works an amazing lead, and a chunky bass – very high in the mix – shares an equally cool bottom end sound, almost worthy of Geezer Butler.

One of the true highlights comes from occult rock band Kabbalah. Taking one of CCR’s deeper cuts, they layer the main melody of ‘Sailor’s Lament’ with dark but folky three part harmonies, sounding like The Unthanks and 70s folk rockers Trees through the prism of a doom band, and slowly crank the spooky mood until massive riffs and a chugging guitar fill the second half of the track. To treat such a revered band in this way is a very brave move, but for all of it’s darkest tendencies, this is a re-imagining that never feels heavy handed. For those who don’t like things on the heavier side, it mightn’t appeal, but those vocals are irresistible. Equally good, La Chinga’s decision to take the energy driven ‘Sweet Hitch Hiker’ (the best track on 1972’s ‘Mardi Gras’ swan song, hands down) and turn it into something akin to a punk ‘n’ roll banger from Glucifer is a great move. Their recording bristles with life, sharing a world of spirited lead guitar and stabbed piano, and a raw vocal that’s really sympathetic to their own brand of noise.

Given the amount of doom riffs on show here, it’s a real pleasure to experience Jakethehawk truly thinking outside of the remit. Their take on ‘Lodi’ reworks the track as a country hoe-down, all bluegrass guitar parts and busy soloing. Almost taking it from the hands of John Fogerty and placing it in the world of Chris Hillman, it’s been afforded a really uplifting arrangement throughout, and made even better with the help of enthusiastic harmonies. ‘Ramble Tamble’ – always a great romp in the hands of Creedence – is now a mixed bag. The fast movement of the song is now an ugly blend of strange stoner rock spaciousness and distorto-noise, which is presented in a less appealing way than the original recording. Thankfully, End of Age play to tradition for the slow and repetive second half of the jam, which shows off some great guitar tones, solid drum work and – best of all – a few haunting backing vocals that help give extra life to an already great riff. It’ll split opinion, certainly, but the good bits are strong enough to make it just about work.

You want pure doom? Check out the riff that drives the intro of Void Vator’s ‘Commotion’. It’s got a brilliant Sabbath-ish sound, and the accompanying twin lead is incredible. In a dramatic turn, the track then shifts into a massive, pacey slice of hard rock where stoner-ish riffs are underscored by rockabilly rhythms, which give the recording a genuine energy. Eventually, everything changes again to share a mid-tempo doom metal riff that’s absolutely massive, and guaranteed to thrill fans everywhere. Between a gruff vocal and a couple of shredding leads, there’s a metal heart beating furiously, and if you didn’t know better, this could pass as a completely original work.

Creedence’s albums were home to some top notch covers, some of which have almost become de facto Creedence songs in the eyes and ears of fans, and that’s something that isn’t lost on this collection. A brilliant ‘Suzie Q’ from Cities of Mars & Suzy Bravo transforms the bar band standard into a strange slice of space rock with blues guitar augmentation; a second contribution from Great Electric Quest gives ‘Cotton Fields’ a lot of bounce in a 60s rock way, and a tiring sludge metal romp through ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, courtesy of Kind pummels the listener over seven minutes in a way that might make you dislike the track forever. On top of all that, you’ll find Master Nasty turning in a very traditional version of ‘Run Through The Jungle’, a number that really suits the combo of roaring vocals and howling blues guitars, a finely arranged swampy, stoner-centric version of ‘Gloomy’ from Cortez, and a bass heavy ‘Fortunate Son’ from blues rockers Ozone Mama that also shares some great organ work on an arrangement that would sound absolutely amazing in a live setting.

It sort of goes without saying that nothing featured on ‘Burn On The Bayou’ beats the original recordings, but there’s some good stuff buried within its sprawling thirty two track selection, and even a few genuinely great bits. It seems that Ripple Music were right to take a gamble on such a project. The fact that it gave the world the brilliant Kabbalah harmonies on ‘Sailor’s Lament’, something great from Roadsaw and a spirited version of ‘Lodi’ seems reward enough, and even some of the more bog standard stoner-ish arrangements have their own (predictable) charm. It certainly isn’t a release for the CCR purists – how could it be? – but, for metal fans, it’s a huge and impressive vessel for discovering several bands you possibly wouldn’t have otherwise heard.

October/November 2023