Quick Spins: 'Journeyman's Wager' by Chuck Mead
"No Requests," the funky final track on this solo debut, offers the most emphatic evidence as to where Chuck Mead's head has been at since his main band, BR549, went on hiatus. Where that walking jukebox got its start playing just about any sawdust-and-steel classic its fans clamored for, this busman's holiday is all about originality, something to which the 11 hungry tracks here amply attest.
Mead put together a terrific band for the project, a left-of-center Nashville cast that plays it as tight and loose as needed, and with rangier pop, rock and soul chops than his regular band. "Old Brown Shoe," the only song Mead didn't have a hand in writing, re-imagines the Beatles B-side as a squalling blues while connecting the dots between Jimmie Rodgers and Howlin' Wolf with some keening yodeling on the closing vamp.
Much of Mead's record offers a fresh take on classic Southern pop, especially the groove-steeped glories of the late-'60s country-soul that migrated north to Nashville from Muscle Shoals. "Gun Metal Gray" is high-cotton Gothic a la "Ode to Billie Joe," right down to the scab-picking licks that Mead, whose pliant tenor oozes credibility, scratches out on resonator guitar. "She Got the Ring (I Got the Finger)" is down-home power pop, "Albuquerque" a gorgeous, sweeping ballad. And apart from a reference to getting "stoned on Satan's grass," "A Long Time Ago" sounds like it just might be the big radio hit that the song's self-deprecating protagonist -- and writer -- dreams about.
-- Bill Friskics-Warren
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Gun Metal Gray," "A Long Time Ago," "No Requests"