Album review: Junkyard Choir’s Trouble In Mind

By - Monday 26th March, 2018

Recorded a thrown shot glass distance from the Oval Tavern, this album is filled with confidence, texture and tone

Image by Junkyard Choir, used with permission.

As a live band, Junkyard Choir has few peers on the circuit. Tommy Herbert and Mark ‘Carlos’ Woods cook up a caustic blues/grunge jambalaya of sound, transporting you to a mythical southern state of America that’s two parts New Orleans, two parts Seattle, one part Mississippi delta. The whiskey is cheap and plentiful, and the women, good or bad, will leave you heartbroken, but there’s always another waiting for you at the other end of the bar.

Transferring that energy and ‘Big Easy’ feel to the recorded form is a difficult trick to pull off. So, these good ol’ Southern Boys, (Southern as in Brighton, East Sussex not Birmingham, Alabama) called in some compadres: Mark Robbins on bass, Tom Woodbridge on mouth harp, Tristan Gaudion on trumpet. Aimee Grinter was called in to provide backing vocals and Graham Lentz percussion. And with the gang all fired up, they headed on into town – Croydon town, that is – looking for trouble. Recorded at Croydon’s Rocket Studios, on the wrong side of the tracks from East Croydon station, (and a thrown shot glass distance from The Oval Tavern) the desk was manned by Gavin Kinch, engineer, producer and a mean keyboard player whose own CV includes working with American punks Black Flag and The Damned’s Captain Sensible.

The album, understandably then, has a rough, raw feel. Deliberately so. To polish the Junkyards too much would lose the best part of them.

The ghost of John Belushi nods along

‘When It All Falls Down’, the opening track, is as rough as a dog’s tongue. Woodbridge’s harmonica wails over an insistent chopping guitar riff and Woods’ gravel vocals. The drums are like a steam train. The chorus, with Woods leading a backing ‘choir’ will get you joining in all too easily. ‘Blue Moonshine Lady’ has echoes of Springsteen, and ‘Road to Glory’ has a Ray Charles vibe, with Kinch’s keyboard adding a neat gospel touch.

The keyboards are also used to good effect on the next track, a paean to the landmark LA hotel on Sunset Boulevard, the Chateau Marmont. “You gotta get high at the Marmont Chateau” choruses Woods, and the ghost of John Belushi, who died of a drug overdose there in 1982, nods along.

If Rick Rubin had ever produced Roy Orbison, it might have sounded like this

The pace shifts and slows with ‘She’s On Fire’. A more melodic side of the band comes out, showing Woods’ wider vocal range. This is out-and-out romantic, a last track of the night on the dancefloor shuffle, eyes closed stuff. If Rick Rubin had ever produced Roy Orbison it might have sounded something like this. Kinch handles detail well. The echoing bell in the background of ‘All the Rats Will Drown’ gives exactly the right feel to this tale of a man all at sea in both senses. “I wanna get back home, there’s a woman who’s sleeping on her own” sings the protagonist, more in hope than expectation.

‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’ was a kick-ass track when I saw it done live as a set ending number at the Scream Lounge last year. Here it feels different, though hey, that may be my memory playing tricks. On ‘Trouble in Mind’ it’s become more layered, even, dare I say it, sophisticated. But it’s a good thing. One of the longer tracks, it suddenly changes direction just over four minutes in, when a fade is followed by funk which turns to a raucous, energetic, emphatic chorus and then out. And then, to follow, a swift burst of Mexicana, with Gaudion’s lonely trumpet sounding out over the sonic desert plain and cantina that is ‘The Days They Run Away’. It is quirky and quite wonderful.

A moody, brilliant, bourbon-soaked love song

So ‘Fuel Up’ is rather an anti-climax, sounding very sub-Springsteen, in production, arrangement and with its well-worn “I got a one way ticket to the promised land…” lyrics, but thankfully we’re back in the zone with ‘Sorrento’. This sexy beast lopes, swaggers, full of confidence, texture and tone, its spare production bringing out the best in all of the individual elements. And then we get to ‘Kinda Girl’. The backing vocals sound uninterested and uninvolved and I can understand why. Against the killer of Sorrento, this is filler. The title track ‘Trouble in Mind’ hints occasionally at Hendrix but it too seems mired in the mundane. It’s not a bad track, it’s just not a particularly good one either. ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ though is a driving audio assault, which at just over two minutes does what it needs to do, does it bloody well, and then gets the heck out of Dodge.

The best is very much saved ‘til last with a beautifully unholy trinity of top tunes. ‘Thunder Came’ is a moody, brilliant, bourbon-soaked love song, followed by ‘Nasty Gal’, a down and dirty blues rocker; fuzzed up, funked up, a good, good time with a bad, bad girl. And then ‘Up All Night’, which doesn’t just finish the album, it crowns it. There is a feeling of grandeur about it, of epic scale. The production is sparse, echoing, Woods’ vocals move from tender and touching to raw: glorious.

Trouble In Mind is a bootleg soundtrack to an un-filmed Tarantino script. Born in Brighton and nurtured in Croydon, laced with Americana Heavy DNA, this baby deserves not just your attention, it demands your love. Buy it, and play it. Play it loud. Volume is crucial…

Paul M Ford

Paul M Ford

Writing, singing, acting, stand-up comedy, not to mention banking and marketing, Paul has not so much followed a career path as leapt blind-fold into a dodgem car and headed down life’s highway, probably against the flow of traffic. With a fascination for history and a seemingly anachronistic sense of fair play, he’s a born-again Coulsdonian, who wants people to realise that a vision for a better Croydon should extend beyond a half-mile radius of the Whitgift Centre…

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  • drews

    Brilliant review of a great album by a fantastic live band