Okay, I know that back in February I promised myself no more retro rock. But a shift in release dates created a gap in my calendar, and Madam X, in her infinite wisdom, bestowed upon me an album as retro as it gets: Bury the Hatchet, the sophomore album from Californian blues/metal trio Shotgun Sawyer. I groaned inwardly,1 hit the download button, and prepared for the worst. Even when the promo blurb is as enticing to me as this one was, I still have doubts about retro acts. There was a chance, though, that Shotgun Sawyer would be more interesting than other fare: Muddy Waters and Led Zeppelin are two key influences—in theory at least: I needed to listen to this to confirm or deny.
Bury the Hatchet is most definitely a blues-based hard-rocking album in the most genuine sense, but The Riff is central to most of the songs here, not the standard 12-bar arrangement. In fact, when I scan quickly through my song notes, the word “riff” appears at least once in eight of the nine songs. And these are damned fine riffs, I might add, catchy as hell. After just one listen, I had both “You Got to Run” and “Hombre” stuck in my head for the rest of the day. There’s nothing crazy about these riffs; they simply rock. Dylan Jarman is a killer rhythm guitarist (we’ll get to his vocals later), and also has a knack for dropping stellar lead breaks. Take the blues-to-eleven approach of the first Led Zeppelin album, sprinkle in a bit of Cream-y experimental jamminess, sauce it all with a dirty glaze of authentic Delta Blues, and you’ve got a good idea of what Shotgun Sawyer sounds like.
Jarman’s guitarwork is front and center throughout, but a closer listen reveals abundant skill in the rhythm section as well. Brett “The Butcher” Sanders is in or around the pocket as needed, pushing the tempo slightly at times while hanging back at others. His opening riff to “Love You Right” is something the James Gang would be proud of. And David Lee’s drumming is a clinic for this style, invoking John Bonham with his effortless fills. And while most of the songs are rifftastic, up-tempo rockers, the band shines when they change it up as well. “Backwoods Bear” is reminiscent of the acoustic material on Led Zeppelin III, while “When the Sun Breaks” could be a blues standard from the same era. And “Son of the Morning” is a slow burner, still bluesy but with overtones of doom and sludge bringing it forward in time.
Listeners will have a love/hate reaction to Jarman’s vocals. Like the entire album, they sound raw, gritty, and unrefined. In fact, Shotgun Sawyer recorded Bury the Hatchet live, and didn’t overdub any of the music, giving us a visceral, authentic, and energetic recording that drips with groove and feel. The vocals may be pretty rough around the edges, and at times Jarman verges on losing control altogether, but he holds it together and contributes bigly to the album’s charm as he does so. It can be equated to your drunk cousin getting on stage at a Led Zeppelin concert, shoving poor Bob into the crowd, and taking over with abandon. The rough-and-tumble production only serves to add to the record’s charm. This is exactly what the band would sound like live, and it’s pure fun.
Being a huge fan of the blues (I’ve got more John Lee Hooker albums than Metallica in my collection), I love it when a band can replicate that feel without sounding cliché, and Shotgun Sawyer, despite their youth, wonderfully convey their love of the blues through the songs on Bury the Hatchet. Sure, there’s nothing groundbreaking here, but the boys have laid down some well-written (if somewhat derivative) songs, their performances are loaded with energy and passion, and, most important, they’re damned fun to listen to.