The challenge faced by Scrapomatic's co-leaders, vocalist Mike Mattison and guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Paul Olsen, is a formidable one which is faced by both posers and genuine proponents of the bluesto turn the simplicity and passion that distinguishes the genre into a genuine means of personal expression.
"Longhaired State" is a prime example of this principle successfully at work as Scrapomatic swings throughout the track. It's notable that there is a guest who seems to elevate their playingCount M'Butu, a frequent contributor to The Derek Trucks Band. He adds percussion that loosens up the rhythm section of bassist Ted Pecchio and drummer Tyler Greenwell, while at the same time, Mike Mattison wails.
Indeed the most memorable moments on Sidewalk Caesars are those featuring Mattison, who is also the vocalist for Trucks' band. During "He Called My Name," he wordlessly intones his parts with his slightly hoarse tenor (from which he has no trouble ascending to falsetto), effectively managing to produce passion merely with the sound of his voice. It's also notable that he doesn't indulge in any histrionics that might obstruct his delivery of emotion.
If you took a blindfold test on the first track, "He Called My Name," you might well guess it's The Derek Trucks Band as Mattison infuses soul into his singing and Trucks' finely-etched slide guitar adorns the cut. Scrapomatic's Achilles' heel is the very low-key approach that stands them in good stead for tracks like "Killing Yourself on Purpose"listenable enough on its own terms, though not wholly distinctive except for the sound of Mattison singing.
For this CD, Scrapomatic has expanded to a quintet from their original duo alignment of Mattison and Olsen, yet the band doesn't appear to have a sufficiently deep well of feeling to draw upon. That shortfall becomes all too apparent when Derek Trucks reappears on "I Want the Truth." There's an intensity in his playing that extends to the rest of the band as this cut crackles with the electricity that is missing from much of the rest of the album.
In contrast, "I Just Wanna Hang Around with You" gives some inkling of where Scrapomatic needs to go to truly distinguish themselves. The guitars are amped up on this most upbeat of a baker's dozen tracks to the point where they almost sound like a horn section. The addition of such expanded arrangements would add color to the Scrapomatic sound and elevate the often pedestrian material. Another antidote would be to bring in more cover material like this R. Hazard/Peg Boys number.
The blues, after all, is as much (if not more) about feeling as it is about form. Scrapomatic needs to ratchet up their courage and take some chances so that their collective personality traits worth savoring (and there certainly are some) rise to prominence.
Personnel: Mike Mattison: vocals; Paul Olsen: guitars, vocals; Dave Yoke: guitars; Ted Pecchio: bass, vocals; Tyler
Greenwell: drums, percussion; Count M'Butu: percussion, yodeling (2, 11); Derek Trucks: lead guitar (1, 4).