Eric Ambel is the Keith Richards of Manhattan's Lower East Side. Whether he's presiding over his own bar on Avenue B or hitting the road with the Yayhoos or Steve Earle & the Dukes, Ambel shares Richards's knack for coming up with rhythm guitar licks so propulsive, so melodic, so syncopated that they're impossible to resist. Ambel has compiled a whole catalogue of those riffs on his new album, "Knucklehead."
These 15 tracks were recorded in various circumstances between 1990 and 2004 but never released for one reason or another. There are three unreleased Yayhoos demos, five songs from Ambel's part-time band Roscoe's Gang, four songs from his one-man multitrack project Gringoman and one song apiece with the Bottle Rockets, the Del Lords and Martin's Folly. In addition to Ambel's own co-written songs and Steve Earle's unreleased "The Usual Time," there are tunes by Neil Young, Tom Waits, Willie Nelson, the Backsliders, the Flamin' Groovies and the World Famous Blue Jays.
The arrangements are usually off-the-cuff and the performances are often loose, but an infectious rock 'n' roll spirit comes through every track, thanks in large part to the push and pull of Ambel's inspired guitar parts. Unfortunately, Ambel shares with Richards not only a genius for guitar riffs but also severe vocal limitations.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Tuesday at Iota. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Eric Ambel, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8122. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)