by: Susan Dusse
Released this year, “Burn the Ships,” the second release for Texas’ Blacktop Mojo, is 13 tracks of upbeat, toe-tapping rock. Composed, played, and recorded very well, Matt James and his band have stepped firmly onto the playing field with the likes of AlterBridge, Daughtry, Nickleback, and Shinedown, and will no doubt prove to be serious contenders in the genre.
Though it came out in 2017, Blacktop Mojo could have recorded this album at any point from 1995 – now. They are in the category, and of the caliber, of Zakk Wylde’s Pride and Glory and Sevendust, and that vast in talent. They have mastered the perfect combination of a sexy groove with a Southern Flair, and a vocalist who communicates what we all feel, through words and tone. It is a band that will stay relevant no matter what trends come and go.
“Where the Wind Blows,” sits at track one. James has a voice that you feel you’ve heard before, but as you try to identify where you’ve heard it, you realize it is a combination of all of the great vocalists that you love. From Robin McCauley of MSG, to Miles Kennedy of Alterbridge, this song is particularly good. It provides a seductive slow groove, a proper guitar solo that communicates the mood of the song, and very pretty chorus.
“End of Days,” is the second track to this release. It’s my favorite track on the album with its powerful chorus and great buildups to a climax. The song is beautifully written and performed.
“Burn the Ships,” track three, and the album’s namesake, is full of interesting isolations of each member’s instrument. It delivers another great chorus, chugging alternating riffs done at a great tempo, nice bass work, and an interesting break at just before 3:00 minutes. This song definitely evokes a feeling of doom and danger.
“Prodigal” is a slow ballad resting at the fourth position. Any number of popular relevant artists would no doubt love to have written this appealing and very emotional song. While you’ll possibly feel as if you’ve heard parts of the solo before, you’ll soon realize that it is simply because the emotion between the vocals and the guitar require it to be exactly as it is, which has been the case since the beginning of good rock. As the second solo takes you to the end of the song, you’ll feel as if you’ve experienced the beauty of death, or the end of something beloved.
“Shadows in the Wall,” track five, is an ambient, experimental song with dreary down notes where you least expect them, and a flanger effect that makes you a bit uncomfortable. In this uneasy structure, it is again James who stands out and casts all doubt aside regarding his vocal ability. At 3:20 the band provides an incredible groove that is memorable. I clicked rewind multiple times here to experience it over and over.
Song Six, “Sweat,” highlights their Southern roots in the vein of Corrosion of Conformity and Down. It is here where I noted that their lyrics aren’t trivial; they speak to life.
“Pyromaniac,” hits just past the half-way mark at track seven. It is my least favorite track on the album. I felt like I had heard it before in a culmination of the songs that preceded it on this release.
Appropriately placed, “8000,” at track eight, is a beautiful interpretation of emotion. From the faint screams to the acoustic journey, it definitely tells a story…like a tragic love story, cowboy style. I envisioned the song ending with a fade out during the pretty ambient part, but it jumped back into full force rock. I guess they knew what they were doing, as it was a great transition into the next song.
“Dog on a Leash,” track nine, is the definite radio hit here. The juxtaposition of the voices, matched with the classic style of this post-grunge adult contemporary rock song, could have been sold for millions to bands like Nickleback or Shinedown. This is a great song, and one that everyone should hear.
“Make a Difference” track ten, is another radio friendly potential hit. It fits nicely after “Dog on a Leash,” and is nothing short of pleasant.
“Chains,” track 11, is a hard, groove-driven song. If you like Sevendust, you will like this song. Another favorite of mine, I wish there were more tracks like this on the release.
Likely the song that will get the most attention (and that attention would be deserved,) is the classy cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” at track 12. It’s a crisp modern replica of the beloved song. It is done well, and dare I say it is better than the original. Because it is so good, and the song is so familiar, it will likely be the one that gets the accolades. It was a bold move by the band to put it amongst their originals, and may pull attention away from their great compositions on this release due to how well it was done. Hopefully it will be interpreted as a cherry on top of the awesome desert, rather than the shiny beacon that stands high above the rest.
Closing out the album is “Underneath,” at track 13. It is a heartfelt simple song that nearly brought me to tears. When music touches you so deeply upon first listen, you know it is good. It shows the breadth and width of this band’s talent, and will pull at your heartstrings if you’ve had any life experience at all.
Consistently flowing through “Burn the Ships,” is a satisfying groove. It is nearly impossible not to move some portion of your body while you listen to this sturdy release by Blacktop Mojo. Also, consistent throughout is the dynamic vocal performance by James. James is the standout superstar here, amongst a band of superstars.
A perfect live lineup would be Daughtry, Blacktop Mojo, Shinedown, Sevendust; that order could no doubt change, catapulting Blacktop Mojo higher towards the headliner, as they continue to put out music. With a second release that feels as grown up and mature as a band that has, say six releases under its belt, this band is ready for the big time.