Take the best elements of 1950s rock and roll and rockabilly -- strong harmonies, tight musicianship, and excellent song craft -- and mix them with some modern lyrical and production elements and you would likely come up with the sounds present on Mighty Joe Castro & The Gravamen's first full-length album, Come On Angels! Formed in Philadelphia, the band consists of Castro, bassist HOOV3R, drummer Dallas, and lead guitarist Michael Stingle. The sound blends elements of Sun Records rockabilly with the Stray Cats and has a real punk energy in places, which is not surprising considering the punk pedigree of several of the band's members. Lyrically, the album is more modern in tone than 1950s themes.
The album leads off with "There are No Secretes Here," which showcases an ominous riff with surf guitar tones and a dreamy vocal from Castro reminiscent of Chris Isaak. The bouncy, acoustic title track follows and includes some tasty guitar lines from Stingle. Stingle never over plays -- his leads, both here and throughout, always fit the song. A melodic track with a memorable chorus, it features a confident lead vocal.
On the country-influenced rockabilly of "Cold And Bitter Tears," the group plays to a galloping drumbeat from Dallas, while Stingle delivers leads worthy of Scotty Moore. The group slows down the tempo on "For Every Setting Sun," a ballad with some nice pedal steel guitar.
"June (90 Degrees)" displays a slinky, swamp-like groove befitting the song's title with some eerie guitar lines and a gritty lead vocal. One could easily imagine the Stray Cats doing this one. "Better Hold Tight" is a pretty, country-inspired track with a nice melodic guitar part and a strong vocal. The song is definitely a throwback to the 1950s.
The album closes with "You've Got It All (So What Are You Looking For?)," a dreamy track with a melodic chorus that ends the album similarly to how it began.
Mighty Joe Castro & The Gravamen has delivered a winner with their first album. Their sound is familiar, without being derivative, and the group shows a real love of the material from rock and roll's golden age. Well worth a listen.