Soledad Brothers – Voice of Treason

Soledad Brothers
Voice of Treason

It seems every blues band these days has some sort of interesting story in its past, and the Soledad Brothers are no exception. The Ohio-based trio has an often talked-about link to Jack White of the White Stripes. The part you hear most often is that Jack helped the Soledad Brothers get their first recording contract and produced their first album. The part of the story that seems to go untold most often – and honestly the part that has much more value, I believe – is that Soledad Brothers frontman Johnny Walker taught Jack White to play slide guitar.

Voice of Treason is the Soledad Brothers’ third full-length album. Released in the United States in 2004, well after its 2003 release in Europe, this disc finds the Brothers in a more solid groove while still following the path of garage-rock rhythm and blues. More cohesive, perhaps a bit more restrained, and much darker than their previous efforts, Voice of Treason seems much more focused on roots music. Whether the band is channeling the spirit of the early Rolling Stones or digging much farther back to the blues and country, the group is poised to lead the revival. Frankly, I’m surprised the Soledad Brothers aren’t getting more attention – but then again, so many great musicians aren’t given their due.

Walker (guitar/vocals) is joined by longtime partner in crime Ben Swank on drums and multi-instrumentalist Oliver Henry on Voice of Treason. The trio offers up 13 tracks that run the gamut from R&B and soul to country and gospel. Still, this is an album primarily based in the blues with “based” being the key word. Opening track “Cage that Tiger” is more reminiscent of early punk-rockabilly revival, while other tracks like “The Elucidator,” “On Time,” and “Handle Song” lean more toward pure boogie. “Lay Down This World” is a traditional gospel number that is more upbeat than some of the other tracks, but it still fits in nicely.

The Soledad Brothers also give ample time to slower songs like “Only Flower in My Bed,” a heartbreaker of crying in your beer proportions that serves as a fine prelude to the short “Boogie With Viner” – a 39-second guitar-and-piano ditty that sounds like an outro and would have been better used as such. Voice of Treason wraps up with the more straightforward blues of “Lorali” and ends the disc on a fairly languid pace.

Although the Soledad Brothers aren’t necessarily doing anything new with the blues – or garage rock for that matter – what these guys do, they do quite well. Enjoying this album is really a clear-cut case of whether or not you like this style of music. Make no mistake that much of what you’ll hear on Voice of Treason has been done before, but this trio does a fantastic job of paying homage to their favorite musicians while still keeping it interesting. It’s clear that plenty of time on the road has given Walker, Swank, and Henry the time to become better musicians and songwriters. Although the band had some initial trouble getting this album released in the US due to its supposed “subversive” title, I’m thankful that Sanctuary took a chance to bring this fine collection of songs to blues rock fans.