If you're gonna be a rock band or a blues rock band, you pretty much have only a few seconds to establish yourself as such from the moment the listener pops a CD into the stereo. Kettleblack answers any questions one might have about their intent very quickly. They tell you within a few notes that they're here to rock you and they do.
Before I get into the meat of the Kettleblack Live CD -- their original songs -- I'm going to address the cover tunes they've included because covers can be rather tricky.
"Hard to Handle" is a bit hard to handle when the most popular version has embedded itself in our collective psyche. That said, Kettleblack does a passable job with the tune, but they're not the Black Crowes (who basically OWN the song at this point), nor are they originator Otis Redding, Tom Jones (who does a surprisingly good job with this tune), or even Mae West (1970, Myra Breckinridge, anyone?). It's not bad. It's just a tough tune to make one's own when you're up against a force such as the Crowes. It was a bold choice for their debut album and I think it may play better in person than it does on CD.
"Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" fares a bit better, with a muscular presentation, but nothing that deviates too far from the established path. However, the inevitable comparison to every other version will leave one wondering if it's at all necessary to include this song on CD as opposed to just letting the momentum and power take it where needs to go when performed before an audience, which is where "Voodoo Chile" tends to be best received.
The best cover choice of all is Randy Newman's "Leave Your Hat On". This is a gutsy take on the tune and once you get past the initial shock at the faster tempo, it takes hold of you and rocks like you wouldn't expect such a staple to rock. This song is proof that covers can have a life of their own and don't have to remain 100% faithful to the original to be powerful and enjoyable.
As for the originals on Kettleblack Live, I have to say the opener really sets the tone for the entire CD experience. It's a rocker, for sure, and it doesn't disappoint. However, one of my favorites is "Bad Bad Bad," a fuzz-laden rocker that is thoroughly enjoyable. It soars and whispers in all the right places. "Dogshit and Puppy Love" is deeper and darker than you'd expect, but hey, sometimes titles just happen. The best of the bunch, though, is "Woodshed". Ready for play on rockin' blues radio, it digs deep and grinds and growls and takes you somewhere else entirely.
This Orange County, California band is ready to set off earthquake detection systems everywhere and they have everything necessary to make it happen. Lyrically, the songs are intriguing. Musically, there's no question that this is what these guys were meant to do. Lead singer and guitarist Sam Sasso has come a long way since I first heard him six or seven years ago. His vocals are fuller and steadier than they were, and his guitar skills are just as bad ass as they've ever been. Jon Siembieda on rhythm guitar is right there, never pushing or pulling the music where it shouldn't go. Tom the Bomb, drummer, has his groove and locks in perfectly with bassist Matt Menaged, who brings a distinct style all his own to the group.
Kettleblack has all the key pieces in play. Live is more than a decent debut CD. There's plenty to like and really nothing you'd skip over. Some songs are simply stronger than others and strikingly so. Already I'm looking forward to what the band has to offer up next.