Shoreworld: Bobby Mahoney – Friends In Low Places

I can remember being backstage on June 15, 1986, at Amnesty International and observing John Eddie command the sing-along masses with “Pretty Little Rebel,” “Jungle Boy,” and a few others that I don’t remember. As I stood stage left, I couldn’t help but marvel at the way this Jersey son addressed the crowd of thousands, putting his stamp on a musical territory that didn’t seem to have any more room at the top. But, as history has shown, Eddie elbowed his way in, sticking to his guns through good times and bad, and woodshedding his way to a veritable oasis of artistic achievement. Even his whole, “Who the hell is John Eddie?” has become a Jersey household phrase. Successful? Hell yes, it’s successful.

So why am I rambling about glory days and Jungle Boys? Because it reminds me of this next Jersey artist, an artist who is cut from the same basic, compositional material and has empowered himself in much of the same ways that Eddie himself did when he was starting out.

Bobby Mahoney And The Seventh Son have been on the scene since 2010, but I have to be honest when I say that I’ve come to know Bobby as a solo artist. That’s the concentrated image Mahoney has used to make a growing name in the short period of time he’s been here. I’ve seen artists pay dues and play for years without getting so much as an opener at a decent show, let alone getting the opportunity to cut multiple records, play important festivals and benefits, and leave reactions that build public comparison to some of New Jersey’s famous sons.

The split personalities of Mahoney actually clashed head on with the release of two different projects back in 2012. The solo CD, Delicate Fall From Grace, as well as a Seventh Son EP, titled, Only Ashes Remain.

His opening artist status has seen him fronting luminaries such as Willie Nile, Jesse Malin, Jake Clemons and Pittsburgh’s Joe Grushecky, to name an illustrious few. He has also graced stages that range from The Paramount Theatre to the Bamboozle stage at the Meadowlands.

With musical influences ranging from hardcore Asbury ancestral to modern rock, Mahoney loves his jersey icons, listing Gaslight Anthem and Bruce Springsteen in the same breath with AC/DC and the Rolling Stones.

Like Eddie, Mahoney has aligned himself well, appearing on stage at certain benefits with the boss man himself, and becoming a favorite of Jersey Shore promoters and music fans from Asbury Park and beyond.

Friends In Low Places marks Mahoney’s return to the band format and a more tumultuous and concentrated rock and roll sound. Defiant and green, this record logs adolescent “life in the fast lane” recorded and learned by the young men who wrote it.

This also is a collaborative effort that pairs Mahoney with writing comrade, rhythm guitarist Jon Alba. Alba, Mahoney and Max Aharon also produced the disc with varying amounts of responsibility. The group includes members James McIntosh on drums, Joe Larkin on bass, as well as the aforementioned Alba, Aharon and Mahoney on guitars, vocals, basses and more. Mahoney also enlisted drummer Giancarlo Cordasco for the disc, as well as Danny Cohen, Nicco DiRenzi and Tim Gysin for background vocal magic.

The disc opens to a sustained, individual feedback note strangled into compressive Nirvana before exploding into a concise, 1970s punk rock sound on “Teenagers Too.” Powerful and strong, Mahoney and crew raise their fists to the sky in rebellious “dance the night away” angst. Guitars are a veritable wall of fuzz, spraying sheets of cacophony underneath Mahoney’s raw, junkyard snarl. If anyone ever thought that the usually acoustic strumming Mahoney didn’t really have anything to contribute electrically, his lead guitar prowess literally peels away any nice guy singer-songwriter assumptions I may have had in the 4:58 it takes to completely have me reanalyzing the man and the band.

Jumping around, I landed on “New Age Outlaws.” From the very first flurry of riffs and mega drum intro, I’m hearing traditional accents of Bruce and Grand Funk Railroad like nobody’s business. “American Band,” three-chord descentions explode into this four on the floor mix of new aged bad boys. Mahoney’s vocal presence blends with the anaconda power crush of drums, rhythm guitar and bass in this sure to be popular rocker. I’m not crazy about the two-handed tapping that fires off the bridge, but it ultimately pulls out of that dive and levels gritty, agreeable pentatonic resonance into the chorus and end. Great guitar lines complement addictive melodies quite well here and I can appreciate why this was released as a single.

When I hit on “Another Deadbeat Summer,” it totally brought back recollective images of my own days as a working musician trying to break out of my home state. No frills Jerzy salute to the desperate flight of an area that only a Jersey resident could relate to. I’m impressed at the overall writing style that Mahoney and Alba lock into on this record. They could have done what was expected of them and danced like puppets on the S.O.A.P. strings, but they turned hard rock left and took their own road in the quest for artistic accomplishment. The record is about understanding basic human element, self-evaluating uncertainty and the need to make a permanent mark in a universe of growing unrest, and they communicate these feelings quite well.

Mahoney and crew take a significant step back in dynamic presentation with “Guilden Street.” Mahoney sweeps out under acoustic solo guitar and voice, looking deep into the past, mixing memories; lamenting the choices lost to the circumstance of conflict past and knowing that at the end of the day, we’re still here and fighting for every principle of survival. Bassist Joe Larkin commands backing vocals, locking in and providing an intimately rousing backdrop to Mahoney’s stark and open presentation. This is my second pick on the disc as it confers a certain and direct signature feel.

“Star-Crossed” highlights Mahoney and band at their rawest emotional state. With a full powered rasp that reminds me of Kurt Cobain (In Utero), Mahoney leads the group through a chugged-out, tube-fueled retro burst of 90s-styled alt rock honesty. Once again, I’m impressed with the tasty licks in the middle eight and the overall production both here.

The CD closes with the echoed, bell clear tones of “Self-Induced Exile.” Immediately recognizable as an A-list composition, Mahoney illustrates the originality and unparalleled perspective of a true storyteller. Open and candid, Mahoney lets us know about his shortcomings (“I’m not a saint”) and the unrest of searching for hard-earned truths. Mahoney’s vocal goes from a confidential whisper to a raucous, Chris Cornell-like roar, and this is yet another song that should unlock gateways for the band. Kudos goes to Max Aharon for a job well done on stand-up bass.

All in all, there are 10 songs of varying degrees of continuity here. As I said earlier, going with a band direction when you’re known for soloing at certain genre specific benefits, clubs and functions can be a puzzling thing to fans that only like what they like, but I definitely applaud the breakaway approach and the old school attitude on Friends In Low Places.

Mahoney states his firm involvement with a group, and that’s how it comes across here. Some of the songs on Friends In Low Places ring no new bells, and the title reminds me of a Garth Brooks song, but as I said, it’s the attitude and belief that make this effort work.

Whether you’re a fan of Bobby Mahoney as a solo act or you’re a hardcore fan of The Seventh Son, Friends In Low Places has something compelling to say for everyone open to the time-honored traditions of growing up, standing out and moving on in the tradition of the East Coast rock and roll music scene.

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