There is a potpourri of influences flowing through the dozen songs on Brad Absher and Swamp Royale’s Lucky Dog that comes together in an unique sound and songwriter sensibility quite unlike anything enjoying popularity today. They traffic in a decidedly retro sound, as far removed from the clichés of pop and hip hop as one can possibly go, but it has a modern production sheen that presents the material in a physical, urgent fashion. This is music that engages its listeners rather than inviting them to join the fun. Absher’s guitar is the unquestioned musical hero of the collection, but he brings a lot of fantastic secondary elements to complement his six string work and convincing vocals. Hammond organ, horns, and a host of tastefully employed effects, post production and otherwise, help raise this release up several notches from great to magnificent. There are few solo or band configurations working and recording today with this sort of fully realized musical and songwriting vision.
Despite the bluesy influences streaking across the album, Absher’s true métier remains guitar-fueled R&B with a brawling, cock-eyed barroom edge. It’s apparent in the album’s opener, “Woman Who Loves Me”, that Absher and his cohorts have perfected a formula for bringing a number of disparate strains of Americana music under one tent. He spices things up with a funky bite on the song “Trouble” and, despite its well-worn subject matter, Absher sings and plays with enough conviction that he sounds like the first guy who’s ever endured anything like the lyrics describe. He goes uptempo on the song “Lipstick Traces” and the breezy, well-balanced musical attack makes his job as a vocalist all that much easier than it might have otherwise been. Absher sings with loose-shouldered, relaxed confidence that never waves and his guitar work punctuates the performance in quite an entertaining way.
“Not Tonight” is one of the album’s most surprising moments and represents its biggest single stylistic detour. It’s an outright ballad in the classic country tradition and Absher shows that his whiskey and cigarette coarsened voice has some elements of affectation as much of its texture smooths out in order to realize the vocal line’s melodic potential. “Jesus On The Mainline” is the second of the album’s two iconic covers and the more faithful of the two. While Absher and his band members certainly adept the song for their own strengths and purposes, it keeps much of the original’s foundational structure and its hard-driving no frills approach. “Miss Your Water” brings tearjerker blues, slow and patient, with a strong gospel influence, particularly thanks to the backing vocals. Absher also hits listeners with one of the album’s best guitar solos. “Same Love” pops and percolates with a soulfully funky R&B edge that’s much more reliant on steady rhythm section work than the earlier efforts in this vein. Absher and Swamp Royale end the album with the somewhat comic “I Need a Drink”, but the dark humor of its subject strongly hints at the pain lurking just below its surface. This is a fine album from start to finish that never overstays its welcome and bristles with equal parts character and musicality.