Review of Whirled Boogie’s “Too Big to Fail”
Blues music or otherwise, I can appreciate the work that goes into creating an CD that has a high production quality. I understand the painstaking process that making a record can be. I have a great respect for the time it takes to get your music to sound exactly how you want it. However, my personal tastes draw me away from a slick record nine times out of ten, and take me to something with more grit. I much more appreciate the ability to craft great music without all of the techniques and machinery that go into making the “perfect album.” Often times, that rawness allows you to get to the meat of the message that the music can hold.
It’s that approach that makes Whirled Boogie’s debut CD so wonderful to listen to. The duo of Chad Nordhoff on vocal and guitar and Jason Vawter on drums worked these dozen songs out on stage together, taking each of them through a trial and error process in one of the most critical arenas in terms of the Blues – a regular gig on Memphis’ Beale Street.
Chad probably sums it up best in Too Big To Fail’s liner notes, mentioning that “What you hear is raw boogie. There were no producers…It’s not a low-budget recording, it’s more like a no-budget project.” These guys needed something they could sell at their shows! I don’t necessarily think this album was produced with the mindset that it was going to be number one on iTunes, although that feat would be a positive reflection of society. No, this is an album for people who like good tunes that sound like they sprang from the earth upon which the were played – genuine Roots music. It provides a great aural snapshot of the band for folks who can’t get enough of the live show (or can’t make it to a live show.)
Nordhoff, originally from Indiana, teamed with Vawter in part because he desired to thicken his sound after years of playing by his lonesome. The two have gelled wonderfully, and created a set of great originals, all penned by Chad Nordhoff, as well as a diverse repertoire of covers, Blues and more, that you can hear them play live. Chad’s songwriting has taken on a bit of social commentary in the last few years; and you can hear that in tracks like the opener, “Freedom is Homegrown” and the title cut, “Too Big To Fail,” a song named after the phrase thrown around during the recent economic meltdown. The tune encourages we the people to come together as one and break the system of greed.
The songs range in their influence from straight away Blues to Country to Rock, while the band maintains a sound that is truly unique. The opening number has a little bit of a Country influence. That’s followed by a pretty little song, “Another Lonely Dawn.” “Drive It On Home” sounds like it stepped out of the early days of Rock N Roll.
“55 Shuffle” is a really cool story song that details Chad’s trip down Interstate 55 into a series of misadventures beginning in Chicago and culminating in a New Orleans jail cell. 55 criss-crosses the Mississippi river a couple times, carving through St. Louis, Memphis, and Jackson, among other places. The title number has a harder edge than most of the album’s other tracks, perhaps a reflection of the aggrivation caused by the individuals responsible for the crimes talked about in the song. That’s followed by the short but slow breakup number “Out of the Race.” One of the best aspects of Whirled Boogie’s music is that Nordhoff has developed an equal talent with his words as with his guitar strings. The songwriting is deep, but it’s not complicated.
“This Far” is a County-style ballad with Vawter clicking away during the first verse before digging into the rest of his kit through the remainder of the song. Jason has a great way of locking in beside Chad and seems just as at ease going from one genre to the next, as well. He’s equally talented blasting out the more Rock-based fare as when he’s gently drumming on one of the softer numbers. “Wood for Kindling” sounds like a traditional Blues, and features some impressive dobro work – both picking and sliding. I love the approach to the percussion on the track. It’s based around some distant stomping, along with some shakers or maracas. There’s an awesome back porch feel to this number and it goes down as one likely my favorite song on the record.
Whirled Boogie amps back up on the last quarter of the album, ripping through “One of These Days.” This one would be a hell of a song to see the band perform live, as I can see them easily stretching it into a healthy jam. Very danceable too! The album wraps up with the hill-country Blues inspired slider “Coal.” An appropriate tune for a guitar player who’s playing has been described at times like a freight train. It’s a raw, greasy nightcap on this sonic party.
Whirled Boogie is starting to break out of their home base of Memphis, making several stops in other parts of the midwest. It provides folks a perfect opportunity to get out and support them at a live show, first of all; but secondly, it gives you a chance to buy this record. I suggest you do it!
– Johnny “Full-time” Luttrell, Full-Time Blues WUEV Evansville, IN, www.fulltimeblues.com