Detroit is deservedly known as a city with a rich musical pedigree, spawing Motown of course, plus in more recent years the likes of Eminem, The White Stripes and Brendan Benson. The Soledad Brothers are friends of the latter two, with drummer Ben Swank being Jack White’s former flatmate and pianist Oliver Henry romantically linked with Meg White.
Although they may not be as well known as The Whites, The Hardest Walk is actually the Soledad Brothers’ fourth album, and marks somewhat of a progression from the raw, vicious garage blues of their early days.
It still sounds supercharged though, with opening tracks Truth Or Consequence and Downtown Paranoia Blues forming an almighty double whammy to introduce the album. The former swaggers into view like an old Primal Scream record, and is enlivened by bursts of horns, while the latter is one of the most exciting songs you’ll hear all year, a heads-down boogie that would put the Kings Of Leon to shame.
There’s an added edge to many of the songs here too, when you learn that the album was recorded after lead singer Johnny Walker had broken up with his long-term girlfriend. Bitterness and pain veritably burst out of the speakers, especially on the aforementioned Downtown Paranoia Blues – the sound of Walker screaming “I’m afraid I’m gonna see her downtown” is one that stays with the listener for some time.
There’s also the exhilarating Crooked Crown, featuring some blistering guitar work from Walker, and Good Feeling which recalls The Who, but also manages to sound utterly contemporary. As befits a record inspired by heartbreak, there’s some more downbeat numbers here too, namely the hypnotic Let Me Down, and Crying Out Loud, which is so uncannily like prime Rolling Stones it could almost be an out-take from Let It Bleed.
One of the impressive features of The Hardest Walk is how the Soledad Brothers can swing from one extreme to the other. They can place Dark Horses, a gentle yet still menacing dead ringer for early Chris Isaak next to the chaotic brief burst of noise that is White Jazz, and yet it fits perfectly.
On first listen, it’s likely that some of this record’s subtleties will pass you by, and there’s a danger it may be dismissed as ‘just another garage blues’ record. Yet it impresses deeper with every listen – for instance Mean Ol’ Toledo, which sounds a bit too retro at first, slowly reveals itself as a brilliantly menacing Delta Blues swamp.
They even put a worthwhile hidden track on the album some 20 minutes after the excellent True To Zou Zou – so often hidden tracks are just an excuse for a band to shove some self-indulgence on the end of the disc, but here you’ll find an almighty instrumental jam designed to be played loud.
All quite brilliant in other words, and yet another string to the Motor City’s musical bow. If The Hardest Walk doesn’t make the Soledad Brothers the huge stars they deserve to be, then there’s no justice in this world.