Geoff Scott's review of "Dancing In The Belly Of The Beast"
Posted by Trudi Brown on October 27, 2019. 0 Comments
Album Review 30
Bushmaster - ‘Dancing In The Belly Of The Beast’
Bushmaster have been around since the band was formed by Gary Brown in 1992, and having listened to their latest album, ‘Dancing In The Belly Of The Beast’, it’s a mystery how I’ve not picked them up on my radar before now.
Following the release of their third album in 2011 (‘Revolution Rhapsody’), Brown was named ‘Best Up and Coming Blues Rock Artist’ for The Rock Over America Magazine Music Awards 2012....and there’s the second mystery - how long have you got to be part of the music industry to move past the ‘Up and Coming’ stage? Twenty years seems to be way more than enough to me!
Seven years on, and ‘Dancing In The Belly Of The Beast’ certainly demonstrates that Gary Brown’s career has continued on its upward trajectory, and that he has most definitely arrived!
The album comes from the top drawer, with some superb hard-hitting songs that pull no punches. Brown tackles difficult modern day issues like knife crime and police brutality against ‘his brothers’ in the States, which relate to inner city life on this side of the pond just as well. His deep vocals are excellent, reminding me of Robert Cray, but with a jagged edge that seems suited to the subject matter, rather than the smooth polished finish that Cray has mastered.
‘Profile’, the first track on the album - also the first single taken from it - gets straight to the point. The opening chords on Brown’s electric guitar, an instrument he uses right up to the end of the album, make you imagine someone walking along the sidewalk, minding his own business, only to be abruptly stopped by the boys in blue. Random checks on non-white folk are disproportionately high, many people being interrogated numerous times, and why? Brown answers this particular question with two of his own:
“Is there a problem with my skin?
Do I fit your description once again?”
‘Song For Freddie Grey’ further sharpens the point, lamenting the death of a black guy in the back of a police van. Grey’s death in 2015 sparked anti police riots in Baltimore, but the six officers charged with his murder escaped justice.
Gary Brown was born in Washington DC, but grew up in Maryland. He started playing guitar when he was 11, but after his mother ‘got religion’ she made listening to anything other than church-based music a challenge for her son. As he grew up and formed friendships with kids from all kinds of neighbourhoods, his musical influences expanded. Nevertheless, despite discovering the likes of Hank Williams, ‘Dancing In The Belly Of The Beast’ clearly demonstrates that blues and rock were the overwhelming guiding lights for his career.
The continuous battle against oppression and the quest for equality don’t make easy listening, but then why should they? Having said that, I found it quite refreshing to listen to bluesy protest songs, with excellent musicianship to the fore.
Bushmaster haven’t totally abandoned the more traditional fare normally found in the blues box of tricks. There’s still some of the angst brought on by ‘being wronged by your woman’ on tracks like ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. This is a wonderfully mesmerising slow blues with the strings of Mr Brown’s guitar weaving their magic throughout.
The faster blues rock rhythm of ‘Mushroom’ bounces along, with some colourful lines to describe what happened in another failed relationship - it’s not often you hear phrases like “I swallowed my pride while you swallowed his”, which leaves little to the imagination, or “You treat me like a mushroom, baby” which is just...strange!
This album has a blues spirit, with a dash of funk and splashes of rock mixed in for good measure. Gary Brown is a talented story telling songwriter who attacks difficult social issues, as well as more common themes, like love and betrayal. He also provides a little light relief on the final track, ‘Thing Back Home’, which I think can be read as an apology to all non Americans for their inflicting the current leader of the free world upon us all. Brown’s wonderful bluesy voice combines well with his extremely clever hands. The latter play some fantastic guitar solos as well as creating a fabulous sound throughout the album, making it well worth a listen.