Classic Rock Review

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Aerosmith Honkin’ On Bobo (2004)


The eagerly anticipated Aerosmith blues outing ‘Honkin’ On Bobo’ (apparently bluespeak for playing the harmonica) is finally here and to my mind is their finest release since 1989’s ‘Pump’. As I’ve been asked to submit a review, I’ll spare y’all any pre-amble and cut to the chase:

Opener ‘Roadrunner’ is a classic hard-rock tip-of-the-hat to 60’s R’n’B. Fans of Van Halen’s ‘Pretty Woman’, DLR’s ‘Tobacco Road’ or even the Horslip’s ‘Shakin’ All Over’ will definitely enjoy this, which is probably the nearest Aerosmith have come to straight-ahead vintage RnR since Permanent Vacation’s ‘Im Down’.
Track 2 sees the ‘Smiths revisiting previously explored territory, as ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ could pass as a modern reworking of ‘Big 10 inch Record’ from their classic ‘Toys In The Attic’, albeit benefiting from 21st Century production techniques.

Next up, Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Eyesight to the Blind’ allows Tyler to show off his blues-harp prowess: a tall order, given the former’s legendary status as ‘King of the Blues Harp’. However, ST proves yet again that he’s no slouch in this department either, and is aided and abetted by the swamp-blues guitar of Perry and Whitford.
‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ needs no introduction to fans of Rock or Blues. This standard saw its entrée to the rock arena via Van Morrison’s Them in the mid-60’s and since has been covered by the likes of Budgie and AC/DC. This version breathes new life into the old tour de force, and for me is one of the standout covers of the rock era. Notable are Joey Kramer’s drum fills- simple yet highly effective. Additionally, Tom Hamilton’s bass work here is exceptional, holding down a walking bass line until the climax of the guitar solo, when he finally runs off on a freewheelin’ fret-fest that had me hanging on to the speakers!

‘Never Loved A Girl’ is crying out for a single release. This is a typical soul number, but its definitely Stax Studios Memphis, as opposed to Tamla Motown Detroit. It’s a game musician who’ll take on a vocal popularized by Aretha Franklin, but No Surprise (sic) that Steven Tyler is well up to the task.

The first half of the album ends with the first of three songs penned by Mississippi Fred McDowell (cousin of Carnhill Titch?) and sees Joe Perry capably take the lead vocal. Hearing this track hints at the possible influence behind the likes of former Aero-classics such as ‘Hang Man Jury’ and ‘Voodoo Medicine Man’. Tracey Bonham, who delivers in a style similar to Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks or even Bonnie Raitt, joins Joe on vocals, for what is possibly Perry’s best-ever outing behind the microphone.

Track 7 is another McDowell tune, ‘You Gotta Move’. Previously covered by the Rolling Stones in swamp blues fashion, Aerosmith instead prefer to sidestep potential Stones comparisons by applying the patented Bo Diddly riff and beat. This thereby gives the song an entirely different flavour- and no bad thing following 30+ plus years of unfavourable and meaningless Stones comparisons, which do neither band justice.
The only self-penned track is ‘The Grind’, which is a slow 12-bar, probably written as a single release. Typical latter-day ‘Smith-stuff, this is 21st Century Aero-blues, as opposed to the early nineties country pastiche of ‘Get A Grip’s ‘Crazy’ or ‘Cryin’.

Willy Dixon’s spooky-blues workout ‘Im ready’ will give Quentin Tarantino something to think about if he’s ever considering remaking The Adams Family and needs some inspired soundtrack material. This track may fit the bill.
The Jewish-blues of ‘Temperature’ sees Tyler’s vocal at its most affected. This type of material is reminiscent of the style and spirit of the ‘Unplugged and Seated’ retro-Faces set, recorded by Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood over 10 years ago. Fans of this album could do worse than check The Faces out if they require more of the same.

It’s nice to see Aerosmith acknowledge the blues influence from 4000 miles east of the Mississippi, with the penultimate track, Peter Green’s ‘Stop Messin Around’. Again Joe’s on vocals and while this has been an ad-libbed live staple for quite some time, on this occasion the band give it the full studio treatment, featuring a stunning dual lead break from Perry and the criminally underrated Brad Whitford.

‘Jesus Is On The Main Line’ is an acoustic gospel chant lifted straight from the Delta cotton fields. Again, additional vocals are capably provided by Tracey Bonham for a song that wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack of ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’. It really doesn’t get anymore organic than this, and it’s a nice touch that the band should end this outing right back at the roots of the blues, musically, culturally and spiritually.
For me then, a five star rating, and I’d be very surprised if this album isn’t a huge success. I hope that I can come across a better album this year, but I seriously doubt it, given its many strengths and highlights. Few of the so-called ‘Greatest Rock Bands in-the-World’ could manage to pull this off: certainly not the likes of REM or the Chillis. Possibly Fleetwood Mac, if they can pull in both Peter Green and a revitalized David Lee Roth (!) or maybe even Van Halen, if they can travel back in time to hire James Brown circa-1967.

In short then, if you like rock, blues, or Blues-rock then check this out and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. If not, stand clear! The only gripe for me, is that at less than 44 minutes, this album is too short; then again, I’d probably say the same if it was twice as long. Grammy nominations writ large? – Lets wait and see.

January 2, 2014 Posted by | Aerosmith Honkin' On Bobo | | Leave a comment