Rev. Neil Down – American Friend

Rev. Neil Down
American Friend

Well, you know an artist has a long and respected history when his bio takes up at least four pages, front and back. Rev. Neil Down has certainly been around for a while, playing with blues artists, rock bands, solo and with other projects. And now this Alaskan is back with American Friend, and joining him on stand-up bass is Jerry Scheff, a bassist who’s played with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello and more.

So what does the Rev.’s music sound like? Think somewhere between blues, rock, country, and rock-a-billy. Down’s deep, boisterous vocals remind me of Captain Beefheart, and his double-wide guitars provide a straight-forward rock-a-billy romp throughout. At times I’m reminded of Tom Waits, at times the Reverend Horton Heat. And at times, it’s all Down’s own, original roots-rock.

“Take it From Me” starts off with some killer bass lines and flows with a down-home rock feel. This one gets me interested from the get go, even if that interest wanes a bit on the more country-ish “Straight Across Trade.” There are some serious moments of funk guitar, accompanied by harmonica and more wailing vocals, on “Holiday.” “Sometimes Paradise” is probably the most Tom Waits sounding, a slower, more smokey blues-style song complete with accordion and mandolin. I like that one quite a bit. Down shows off his more bluesy, rootsy vocals on “The Trench,” almost howling at times. “Baby Doll” is an almost sweet, twangy ballad, and “Keystone Lake” finishes up very rock-a-billy style but with a damn catchy beat.

A few of these songs get on my nerves, primarily because I’m not so much a fan of the bluesy rock-a-billy style. “Finish Your Dreams,” for example, is barely tolerable, and the title track isn’t much better. But overall, these are some catchy rootsy rock songs that you can’t help but nod along to. I bet the good Rev. would put on quite a live show, with his double-wide guitar and the stand-up bass. But on album, I think his audience is a bit different from our typical readers.