On their new album, guitarist and singer John Chart and cohorts rock us with some snappin’, jazzy blues. The rest of the Helena musicians, who’ve played together in various configurations over the years, are John Moore on bass, keys and vocals; noted producer Dan Nichols on drums and percussion, and Michael Kakuk on harmonica and saxes. Guest stars Sarah Elkins and Erin Powers share backing vocals, and Jesse Frohreich raps a bit on one track.
Chart and Moore trade originals. They are influenced in part by the Grateful Dead, Van the Man, and the soulful Delbert McClinton. I hear a bit of Delbert right away on the first tune, the harmonica-laced “Get Up and Dance.” The gals add the Dan Hicks infusion of smooth “ah-h-hs” to this one. You best be gettin’ on the dance floor if your feet have any say.
On Moore’s “Sky Cap,” he tells his troubled woman to move on. (“She had a problem with men so the problem was mine … “you got your bad luck bundled in your old backpack … you got your tears in a vanity case.” )
Chart’s “Montana Funky” is packed with the sound of wah-wah guitar effects and laid-back chords, for a moody R&B feel. And John and Abe Moore’s “Green Card” is sunny and upbeat, a tongue-in-cheek take on medical marijuana. Ha!
“Livin’ in the ‘Burbs” honks with barry sax and bent guitar licks, and the title tune, “Conspiracy,” gets down and dirty with musky, thick guitar chords that mingle with black helicopter talk and other paranoia-inducing lyrics.
“Snap Decision” shines with ultra-tight trap work and a syncopated jive, and Nichols shares writing duties on “See You When I’m Gone,” with its splashy Atlanta Rhythm Section nuances.
“Obsession” is spooky and kind of creepy. No, he’s not really stalking her!? It’s got a shoulder-shakin’ rhythm, great guitar, and Moore’s bluesy keyboard work. “What am I gonna do, what am I gonna do” ”” the words rush out in a torrent. “Obsession. Confession.” Cool!
A fine effort from some long-time pickers and singers. And as always, spot-on production from Nichols at his Soul Tree Studio in Helena.
– Mariss McTucker