The driving “The Man Who Shook the World” rockets off Chuck Mead’s rockin’ and rollin’ new album, Close to Home. Rick Steff’s piano rolls and sways, Jerry Lee Lewis-like, under the propulsive guitars of Mead, John Paul Keith, and producer Matt Ross-Spang. The song’s a straight-out rocker that comes a little over halfway through the album, and by the time we get there on the journey that takes us closer to Mead’s psychic and musical home, he’s run us through a gauntlet of raucous rockers, waltzing honky-tonkers, and slow-burning country ballads. Mead joined forces with Ross-Spang at Sam Phillips Recording Studios in Memphis to produce a no-holds-barred, joyous album that’s fun to dance to and to listen to.
Chuck Berry-like rhythms — think “Roll Over, Beethoven” — and Jerry Lee-like piano rolls drive the hilarious “Daddy Worked the Pole,” a cunning play on the occupation of working the pole in the title. The opening lines signal that the song’s headed one direction, but midway through the tables are turned so that “mama worked the pole / so daddy doesn’t have to.”
“Big Bear in the Sky” opens with a throbbing Dick Dale-like guitar riff that floats underneath the song, propelling its chugging Johnny Horton-style history ballad. The song’s based on an indigenous Mi’kmaq folk legend about the Ursa Major constellation, the Big Bear in the sky.
Carco Clave’s steel guitar provides the sonic bed for “I’m Not the Man for the Job,” a reggae rocker that weaves the sounds of the Caribbean with the strains of Tejano. “Billy Doesn’t Know He’s Bad” is an updated version of the Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law” that turns the earlier song on its head. The earnest background vocals create a kind of angelic chorus that at once bemoans Billy’s bad behavior and reveals the irony of Billy’s lack of self-awareness and society’s acceptance of such behavior. The spiraling steel guitar licks on “There’s Love Where I Come From” drive the Mike Nesmith-like country rocker.
Close to Home is pure joy, and Mead’s boisterous and high-spirited romp through the musical fields plowed by Lewis, Berry, and Cash, among others, carries us exuberantly along with him.