Hackettstown’s Only Living Boy is back with a brand new CD full of jagged blues-rock gems. This is pure three-piece snarl from the old school camp of Cream, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company. Recorded by John Noll At Red Bank’s Retromedia Studios and produced by the ever-capable Paul Ritchie (Parlor Mob), the new disc, Hide Nothing,does just that. This is riff-driven, no-nonsense rock and roll. Stark, economic music that reaches out and grabs you by the throat. Original subject matter and effective vamps, breakdowns, guitar lines and vocals drive the songs straight down the road to 1978 and beyond.
Their CD release party at the Asbury Lanes on June 18 was nothing short of extraordinary when it came to attitude, performance and audacious crowd participation. Listen up Shoreworld, if you haven’t been to a show, you need to get your ass in front of Only Living Boy pronto. When these guys play, it turns into an imposing party. Bodacious, drink clutching girls writhed to smoky, shuffled beats, Delta blues guitar grit and big ole walking bass lines that would have made John Entwhistle take a double gulp from his microphone stand equipped brandy bottles.
Only Living Boy doesn’t play the emo/Americana game. Theres no cutesy posing and jumping around like preening drama queens from this band. As they blasted out their heavy blues mojo in stoic pose, the crowd moved for them. There are very few three-piece bands that can get that job done, but Only Living Boy has been honing their sound since they picked up instruments. Managing to employ dynamic playing and wise use of space, this band has an immediately identifiable sound and has the power to attract lots of people.
Lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Joe Cirotti, drummer Trevor Newcomb and bassist Eric Curley have played together in different incarnations since early, prepubescent basement jams. In 2005, they united as Rabid Roy, playing hundreds of gigs throughout New Jersey and New York. In 2008, the band reinvented itself as Only Living Boy, named after Simon & Garfunkel’s 1970 song “The Only Living Boy In New York.” The change represented a significant shift in attitude, songwriting and musicianship. With newfound motivation and an evolved sound, Only Living Boy immediately started to record its insightful and provocative self-titled album, which debuted August 16, 2008. The trio’s unrivaled style is a combination of psych rock inherited from their parents’ vinyl and the alternative rock of their own MTV adolescence, woven together with threads of jam, blues, reggae and punk.
Only Living Boy performed many of the tracks from Hide Nothing and here is my random take on the standouts of the disc:
“Lonely Puppy Blues” jumps right off the platter and into riff-rock nirvana. Singer/songwriter Joe Cirotti has a unique voice and viewpoint here and his rise and fall melodies slide over the top of the scorching hot rhythms of Newcomb and Curley like butter in a hot frying pan. A crowd favorite that had even the nerdiest “girls next door” transformed into burlesque grinders from note one. This would be my top pick for college radio attack.
“Hide Nothing,” the title track off the disk came slithering out into Zeppelin/Soundgarden territory like a sidewinder moving across the desert sands. Announced as an unheard new tune, the sing-along crowd members told me that this new song was already a leaked-out composition that hardcore fans know by heart. With a slow, shuffled grind, “Hide Nothing” features Stratocaster spawned Hendrix licks that lead the song into its raw and minimalist chorus before heading back into bump and grind blues territory with the verse. Cirotti’s guitar style brings forth memories of Robin Trower and Paul Kossoff (Free) and he commands the focus with his physical and aggressive attack.
“Ronnie Ronzoni” is a hilarious romp through an uncut punk overdose. Dirty, wide-open slide guitar screams frantic call and response to Cirotti’s “Whatever Dude.” Crazed lyrics dodge hyperbole bass and drums like a squirrel caught in the middle of the road. One thing is for sure, with his personal penchant for touching himself and cooking, whatever barbecued meat Ronnie Ronzoni is offering in the lyric; I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be eating.
“Open You Up” is another high point on the CD and features sizzling guitar riffs that punch the offbeat, Bonham-vibed time signature into the heart of the song structure like a bullet through flesh. The stop and go dynamic works well as Cirroti chugs and croons between bridges. Guitar work is reminiscent of John Frusciante before slipping deep into the “No Quarter” territory of Jimmy Page. Interestingly, as said before, Joe plays all his material on a Stratocaster, but his tone approaches that of a Les Paul on many a tune on Hide Nothing. At about 2:25 into “Open You Up” the band downshifts into pure Led Zeppelin influence all the way till the end.
“Sunny Day Man” is another standout tune that had the crowd of mostly girls out on the floor and up close to the band. Featuring off-time splashes and crashes, Newcomb leads this beast like a bull, aided by the Curley’s rumble and the junkyard bite of Cirotti’s trusty sunburst Strat. The stomp and break groove slides into the stepping-stoned verse before leading back into the riff. Lots of ‘70s influence here as the band flips between British-tinged blues-rock and the progressive feel of Blue Cheer.
“Priority One” is a smoldering, back-beat rocker with sharp guitar upstrokes and jumpy bass lines. The middle lead breakout is a pure, string-bending Hendrix odyssey. Vocal melodies are an offbeat mix of Robert Plant and Chris Cornell. The guitar and vocal doubling on “Burning” is pure blues down at the crossroads. Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker influence mixes it up with the traditional grandeur Brit-Blues rock style of the ‘70s. Guitar burns bright here in the sonic vein of Hendrix, Page and Mick Ralphs.
Hide Nothing has a total of 13 songs and it’s a pure tribute to the raw powered bands that made rock and roll great back in the day before synthesizers and Pro Tools. Theres no filler or lack of direction, and the songs literally rumble with believable attitude. Only Living Boy proudly wears all of their collective hero’s influence right on their proverbial sleeve, and while Hide Nothing has more than one tune that hovers in Led Zeppelin territory, the overall feel is swampy, Mississippi blues rock that sits closer to Black Oak Arkansas and Hendrix.
Joe Cirotti’s vocal melodies are unique and steer far enough away from his childhood idols to make this CD an interesting pick for the heavy rock and roll listener. Only Living Boy hails from the Parlor Mob family and they know how to put on a show. Well-attended, the band blazed bright from start to finish and not a soul stepped away from that floor until the band took off their instruments and started packing up after the last song. And to me, that shows a well-played hand of fan interest and band buzz.
Only Living Boy will be playing at Veterans Park in Bayville, NJ, on July 30. For further information on the band, the CD or what in God’s name Ronnie Ronzoni is doing in the kitchen, head over to onlylivingboy.com.