Serial collaborator and producer Eric Ambel returns with his first solo record in over a decade. “Lakeside”, supposedly named after Ambel’s favourite former boozer, delivers ten tracks that would feel right at home in any dive where the floorboards are seasoned with spilled beer and the pool tables’ resale value ruined by cigarette damage.
The record’s primary songwriter is Ambel’s old buddy Jimbo Mathus, who also produced it. Ambel himself put his songwriter credit next to only four tracks (two of them shared with Jimbo), with three covers topping up the ten. Despite this over-abundance of authors, the album gels together nicely, thickened by the signature sauce of sharp guitar riffs and restrained vocal work.
The feel is decidedly on the bluesy side of rock ‘n’ roll, courtesy of assured solo guitar work. The opener Here Come My Love (written by Scott Kempner, Ambel’s former band mate) feels like Wilco meets Dr John. There’s a youthfully enthusiastic, Ramonesque romp titled Massive Confusion that sounds like it was jammed out in your parents’ garage. Appropriately, it’s in and out in under two minutes. To that, Ambel and Mathus add a dash of country with Let’s Play With Fire and instrumental Cryin’ In My Sleep.
Yet, to end the description here would be to ignore the elephant in the room – an elephant who is likely wearing shades and a leather jacket. There is a dark edge underpinning the album’s sound. Layered guitar tracks get heavy and muffled at times, filling the space on Hey Mr DJ and Don’t Make Me Break You with an ominous low-frequency woof, pushing slowly forward like a steamroller with a wobbly wheel. Together with the nonchalant singing style that hits the notes without trying too hard, there’s a whiff of danger around that feels – in the almost forgotten sense of the word – cool.
But all this talk of darkness and danger shouldn’t discourage. The cover version of Look At Miss Ohio by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings ends with that walking riff from Hendrix’s Hey Joe, in some guitar player inside joke, I’m sure, so the guys clearly have a sense of humour too. Ha.