Calling for the Crazy (2014) is the swaggering, self-assured debut album of a young blues-rock band previously known as Ballistic Blues with a tough version of Buddy Guy’s “Mary Had A Little Lamb” (erroneously credited to Stevie Ray Vaughan) on the SA Bluesbreakers album,
According to a Rolling Stone article from February 2014 the band member found their way to deep blues through Jimi Hendrix and discovered Vaughan relatively recently. The article does not elaborate on their music collections and I would dearly love to know how they actually came to the blues and what blues albums they own and listen to. If Joe Bonamassa features large, we’re talking epic fail, as an example of technique and “craft” triumphing over soul and guts and sheer emotional energy.
Anyhow, if the blues influence The Ballistics, it is an influence that permeates their music rather being the overt calling card. The Pretty Blue Guns had the same thing going on over the length of two albums, and they are sorely missed.
This blues and hard rock mix is a significant strand of the fabric of the local pop tapestry at this time. A number of bands take their cue from the classic blues rockers of the Sixties and Seventies, the bands that exemplified hard rock as opposed to heavy metal, and latter-day purveyors from White Stripes to Black Keys to Rival Sons, and others. On the local scene, to cite a few examples, Taxi Violence and The Black Cat Bones play hard blues rock, Shadowclub just plays hard and tough, Crimson House Blues play weird-ass roots blues music, Mean Black Mamba plays primitive juke joint blues and Albert Frost and the Blues Brothers play pretty traditional blues when they don’t play superior AOR. Gerald Clark brings soul to blues. Dan Patlansky sucks the soul out of blues.
Where does this leave The Ballistics?
It leaves them with a damn fine record of high energy rock with a blues core.
Opening cut “The Dust Song” kicks into high gear from the first note and the pace is well-nigh relentless from there on. Not that the band plays punk rock fast, they simply channel intensity throughout. The arrangements are not very intricate yet each song has something interesting going on: a riff, a lead guitar part, a strong chorus, some interesting lyrics caught on the half volley.
“No Harm,” following the title track has a naggingly familiar guitar hook that sounds like something from the heydays of mid-Seventies hard rock, as does the brief lead break. This is not a bad thing at all and is yet more evidence of the band’s roots.
Something similar occurs with the rhythm guitar part of “She’s With Me” which sounds like Big Star or something. It is also the most poppy song so far, with a solid hook, great tune and splendid chorus. This is the kind of song that should be the first single off the record.
“Blueberry Pie,” on the other hand, sounds like Status Quo.
“A Night In You” is yet another mid-Seventies throwback with a big, big chorus and anthemic status. Followed immediately by “He Who Knocks” which is cut from similar fabric although not so much of an anthem.
Last cut, “Sugar,” is a boogie stomper that ends the set with as much swagger as with which the band entered. The Ballistics know they’ve rocked the house fearlessly and unapologetically and carry the promise of doing it some more on another day in another place. Or all the time on my iPod.
I am currently truly enamored with The Strypes from Ireland, a four piece of very young guys who are influenced by blues ant the UK pub rock scene of the mid- to late-Seventies. On the surface they seem to have much in common musically with The Ballistics. The two bands clearly look back to a similar era of rock history after heavy blues and glam rock and before punk and late period heavy metal, when hard rock, influenced by blues and informed by pop smarts, was the cutting edge of rock and roll when played by non-mainstream bands.
The South African music scene is very diverse, with room for almost every genre there is, and to my mind there is a great deal of dross and mediocrity there, and I am not talking about lack of technical proficiency, because often the proficiency is exactly what drives the mediocrity, but a pervading sense of pandering to some kind of standard MOR thing that is so calculatedly commercial that it reeks.
To play the kind of music The Ballistics play one must have a dedication to something else than mere commercial success and that things is love for the roots of the music and your own ability to transcend those roots and make something new out of the age old clay. Tick that box. You also need to have fun with it. It seems to me that The Ballistics are having fun with it to the max. That means I’m having fun with it and that is alright with me.