Forgotten series: Earl Greyhound – Soft Targets (2006)

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I would like to discuss St. Cilium-Mortua, the little known (but much beloved) patron saint of hearing loss. Primarily the favored saint for cathedral bell-ringers, St. Cilium-Mortua became much more busy in the 1960s and ’70s with the advent of the high-powered stereo amplifier and Koss headphones.

Like most children of the ’70s, many late nights were spent flopped down in the beanbag chair with headphones assaulting my skull with records such as Abraxas, Foghat Live, Led Zeppelin II, Black Sabbath, and Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo. That funny ringing in the ears was seen as a badge of honor.

Earl Greyhound’s Soft Targets makes me want to do more damage. It’s one of the most brutally raw and honest albums in recent memory. Drummer Ricc Sheridan attacks his kit as though he’d be happy to see it break down back into its constituent parts of wood and metal. Guitarist Matt Whyte slashes and burns. Bassist Kamara Thomas brings both muscle and authority to the table. This is the kind of music that made me want to turn it up too loud.

Musically, it’s easy to trot out the obvious names: Led Zeppelin (especially on “Monkey,” with those descending sheets of metal chords during the chorus), Cream, and maybe even a little Queen. Though these influences are left right out there in the open, Earl Greyhound manages to sound completely unique. Sure, while passing through the first minute or so of “S.O.S.” it’s pretty easy to think of Zeppelin being fronted by the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson. But then, about three minutes into the song a vocal break goes all Brian Wilson before the guitar goes supernova. I swear, it gives me the chills. Bless you, St. Cilium-Mortua.

Earlier I used the word ‘honest.’ This band holds nothing back. No fear. Just listen to Kamara’a impassioned vocals on the sleazy blues of “Yeah, I Love You.” Yes, she plays a mean bass. She also serves as a great vocal foil to Whyte. “Back and Forth” is another fine example. Go ahead, I dare you to not adjust the volume upward.

All of those headphone-assisted repeat listening sessions allowed certain guitar passages to be burned into that special place in my brain: the snarling guitar solo from “Whole Lotta Love,” the crushing power chords of “Black Sabbath,” Keith’s swaggering opening to “Midnight Rambler” from Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. Matt Whyte’s playing draws from both old and new to add many “riff chunks” to that catalog in my head. He’s really that good.

You know, there’s nothing funny about hearing loss. During a business meeting one morning back in the late ’80s, I was horrified to realize that I couldn’t understand the conversation going on in the room. The AC/DC show I’d attended the previous night was the culprit.

Earplugs are now worn to every show. A wise decision, no doubt arrived at by the unseen hand of St. Cilium-Mortua. She had better be vigilant though, because there’s a problem with this Earl Greyhound thing.

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