June 08, 2004


Eric Ambel -- Knucklehead.jpg

An archival collection unlike most others

For most musicians not named Axl Rose, nine years is a long time between albums. In the case of Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, such a gap is more than forgivable.

It's even worth wondering how the always-in-demand guitarist and producer found the time to cobble together his third solo release, Knucklehead, a smattering of highlights from some of his various recording sessions since 1990.

For the last decade-plus, the former member of acclaimed 1980s rockers The Del-Lords has kept busy as a producer (working with The Bottle Rockets,Blue Mountain and Freedy Johnston, to name a few), plus recording and performing with his own bands (Roscoe's Gang, The Yayhoos) and, for the last several years, holding a steady gig in Steve Earle's backing band, The Dukes. Most recently, he has formed his own label, Lakeside Lounge Records, to release Knucklehead and provide a home for his hard-to-find older discs, the newly reissued Loud and Lonesome (1995) and Roscoe's Gang (1988).

Given such a hectic work schedule, a record like Knucklehead seems inevitable; having spent so much time tinkering in the studio with such good company, how could he not rustle up a cool collection of songs amid his pile of tapes? From those archives, Ambel culls a handful of his own compositions and co-writes, such as roadhouse rockers "It'll Only End In Tears" and "Garbagehead," and dusts off several choice cover tunes. He injects a slight twang and puts a renewed, well, groove into the Flamin' Groovies song "Shake Some Action," and serves as a one-man band as he cuts loose on Neil Young's "Revolution Blues."

But perhaps the most interesting turns on the album occur when Ambel takes a stab at tunes penned by band mates past and present. On "Judas Kiss," a dark, driving Del-Lords number written by Scott Kempner, Ambel's understated, aw-shucks vocals contrast nicely with his searing guitar work. Elsewhere, he makes the Steve Earle nugget "The Usual Time" all his own, giving it an infectious, breezy blues-boogie feel a la Chuck Berry.

And, in an impromptu take, Ambel even steps out of the production booth during a session with Martin's Folly and instead has the band back him on a tender rendering of the Willie Nelson classic "Always on My Mind." Such quirks -- not to mention extremely detailed liner notes, recalling everything from the amps used to the classic-rock song that was stuck in Ambel's head during recording -- help make Knucklehead feel like more than just a collection of odds and ends. Think of it as a scrapbook that chronicles the many stops of both a well-traveled musician, and a producer who had the good sense to keep the tape rolling all these years.

-- By George Henn

Eric Ambel on tour (schedule subject to change):

June 18: Olympia Theater -- Paris (as part of the Crossroads festival)

July 1: Route 33 Rhythm & Brews -- Wapokoneta, Ohio

July 2: Birdy's -- Indianapolis

July 3: Blueberry Hill -- St. Louis

July 4: FitzGerald's -- Berwyn, Ill.

Posted by medleyville at June 8, 2004 02:07 PM