• Sat, Nov 16, 2019
Reviews

Confused EP Review- Marijuana Highway by WB And The Prophets Of Rock

5.5

album Reviews Jul 22, 04:24pm

Ok, really, this EP is good, but who is it for?
 Photo Courtesy: Winston Balman

Once in a while, you come across a couple of releases that are anomalies in the current musical landscape. There is a lot of music coming out of a lot of artists in this country, and even though the music scene is relatively a bit smaller than the West, there is still not much time for a band to establish itself. These days, the debut album isn’t too big a deal, but it does introduce you to the world. We see so many people come out with experimental and high-concept debuts, and while they are hit-or-miss because they take so many risks and aim so high, there are a million reasons to follow their next release because so much interesting stuff is presented. This EP ‘Marijuana Highway’ came out in February, and it warrants discussion because it does the total opposite of what most releases have done this year: quietly blend in.

 


Don’t get me wrong; there’s solid songwriting and fine performances by the band on every single one of the five tracks on here. The interesting thing is that this EP doesn’t care about what’s big or who’s going to be interested in listening to it. It sticks to its idea, which is as follows: simple classic rock. That is all. There are no flights of fancy, no deep explorations, no sonic risks. The production is squeaky clean, with natural-ish sounding drums, very well-executed guitars and a marked absence of fuzz or grit. It’s spotless and lacks any sort of imperfection or noisiness. There are camps that will argue that a perfect mix is the right way to go and others who say that perfection removes all the personality from a sound, but that’s a matter of opinion. Winston’s voice is straight out of the baritone slow-jam era of the 70s and 80s, and it’s a pretty accurate version of that vibe. Again, there is nothing wrong on the sonic front.
There’s not much wrong with the songs either. Opener ‘Home Town’ is a clean, woolly guitar and a sterile acoustic riff with some pretty minimal work from the rhythm section (a trend throughout the EP) about the joys of outdoorsy roots life. The guitar work is pretty catchy and the vocal hook is pretty decent, if a bit draggy. But it begs the same question that I wondered earlier: what’s the end goal here? What is being communicated? The title track is the closest thing to a peace-and-love party track for a while; there some old-school shuffling drums and a pretty sweet bassline and a solo that ties the two halves of the song together. ‘Hot Mama Blues’ is probably the best track on here; the riff is awesome and will do well at a bar where a lot of hairy people get drunk. It doesn’t really progress anywhere, but that’s all right, because the chorus-line backup vocals and flamboyant bassline retain interest plenty on their own. There are also a couple of decent pauses that break the rhythm in an interesting way. Closer ‘Small Town Style’ is just a ballad with a tempo that the rest of the EP refuses to move away from; ‘Twice Shy’ also makes the same error of spending too long in the band’s comfort zone. The basic musical ideas presented in both tracks are actually some of the most compelling on the EP, but they end up not building to anything significant. But the overall question still remains: why? What’s the thinking behind this?

 


It’s obvious that Winston Balman and his band are going for a certain tone here: the ‘simple songs that are gritty and tell simple, honest stories’ vibe of early country and rock. The thing is we already have that. The sound of that era is scuffed and almost broken. Sometimes you can barely hear what the singer is saying over the drawl, static and the dirty, almost not-in-tune guitars. That aesthetic has been perfected and done to a T. We don’t require reproductions of that sound because we already have that sound. The point here is what does updating the quality of sound do to make something of that ilk different? What value is being added here? In an age where people are doing all sorts of crazy things to update genres and bring in new sounds, ‘Marijuana Highway’ takes the biggest risk of all: trusting itself. It does almost nothing to build on its influences and parent sounds, and that’s the most confusing thing of all. It’s definitely a good EP with five solid songs, musicality and good performances, but is it anything more? Give it a listen and maybe you will find something.

 

Listen to ‘Marijuana Highway’

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