The Sloths’ ‘Back From The Grave’ Reviewed
The Sloths haven’t released anything since the mid 60’s so why should you care? Because they made history, they were the original garage band and played every venue in Hollywood, they even opened for The Doors, Love, The Animals and Pink Floyd on the Sunset Strip, before disappearing around 1966. But they are back in the business, and so aware of their resurrection they have called their first full-length album ‘Back From The Grave’…. The album was picked up for release by hip Los Angeles indie label Burger Records, and I had the chance to see one of their memorable performances at Lolipalooza 2015.
In the 60’s, they were surf and skateboard buddies not unlike the kids I see in bands playing the cool venues in Silverlake-Echo Park today. The young Sloths were lurking on their big sisters’ R&B and Doo-Wop record collection, watching surf bands, and going to rock ‘n’ roll shows at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. I can imagine them being blown away very early on by some electrifying performances of the greatest rock and soul acts of the days, from Chuck Berry to James Brown, The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Miracles and the Rolling Stones. They got a good taste of rock & roll very early on, but they have always preferred the ‘crude, earthy stuff’ of the Rolling Stones to the Beatles’ ‘kind of polished’ music.
Whatever really happened or did not happened around 1966, the Sloths are living the dream 50 years later with this new album, which features ‘Makin’ Love’, a song more or less improvised on the spot, and one of the 2 tracks they have ever recorded when they were only 15-16 year-old… After disappearing and reappearing in garage sales or collector’s hunts, the single released by the band in the mid 60’s resurfaced on eBay in its original picture sleeve and was sold for the impressive sum of $6,550.00 in 2011. Realizing The Sloths’ cult-following based on this one single, fanzine Ugly Things tracked them down for an interview, and if two of them (singer Hank Daniels Jr and drummer Sam Kamrass) had passed away, guitarists Jeff Briskin and Michael Rummans, bassist Steve Dibner answered the call.
At the time when most California bands were playing surf music and ‘Louie Louie’, the Sloths had found inspiration in the British invasion, they admired the Stones and they were digging deep into obscure blues numbers to add to their repertoire. ‘Back from The Grave’ is sweating all this rock & roll history, with propulsive rock songs and rewarding choruses and giant hooks, like in the very catchy ‘Never Enough Girls’, a song written for Joey Ramone by Holly Beth Vincent, which could sum up why rock music exists in the first place. The tone of the entire album is certainly blues-rock with echoes of old school R&B injected of harmonica solos (‘End of the Rope’), Chuck Berry’s guitar boogie (‘Everybody’s Tyin’ 2 B Somebody’), Jerry Lee Lewis-meets-Elvis’ fire (‘A Cutie Named Judy’) rollicking all the way to the Sunset Strip.
Many of the songs are bullet-like short with an aggressive but charming delivery due to singer Tom McLoughlin (ex- May Wines/TNT) who is replacing Hank Daniels. Live, McLoughin’s charisma and theatrics brought the show to a true rockstar level, with dramatic spins and dropping-to-his-knees dance moves which could only call to mind some of the greatest rock-soul heroes like James Brown and Mick Jagger, and this is the kind of visuals I get when listening to ‘Back from the Grave’.
But there’s a large diversity throughout the album, the tone abruptly turns to a Clash-like beats with spoken words during ‘One Way Out’, bringing an almost punk rock tone with other songs (‘Lust’, ‘Wanna new Life’) and post-English invasion (‘Haunted’) mixed with Laurel Canyon vocal harmonies. Their original composition ‘Makin’ Love’ is also there, closing the album with pounding drums, a Bo Diddley’s primitive jungle sound obsession and McLoughlin’s bold delivery, which could certainly bring Iggy Pop in mind.
In Ugly Things’ interview, Mike Rummans remembers going backstage to talk to James Brown with his father: ‘My dad was very gregarious’, explains Rummans, ‘and he just went up and said ‘Hey, my son’s starting up in the business. You have any recommendations?’ To what James Brown answered ‘Don’t take any lessons. Develop your own style – otherwise you’ll never be more than second rate.’ When you get that kind of advice by James Brown himself, you have to pursue the dream, even if it is 50 years later. These days, the Sloths are guitar/bassist Michael Rummans (the only one from their original incarnation), guitarist Patrick DiPuccio, guitar/bassist Mark Weddington, drummer Ray Herron, and vocalist Tommy McLoughlin,… they have finally made it, but as everyone knows, sloths are very slow-moving animals.