- Artist: All Them Witches
- Title: Lightning At The Door
- Released: 2013, re-released 2015
- Format: 180g Vinyl + Digital Download (FLAC)
- Genre: Psych Rock
- Beverage of Choice: Sazerac
Another example of music having immediate impact and a long-lasting impression on me; in 2015 I attended a show at my favorite small venue, The Belly Up in Solana Beach. Headlined by The Sword (possibly a review subject in future as I love their music and have all their albums), the opener slot was given to ATW and I was floored by their authentic sound, cohesiveness, 70’s throwback looks and amazing groove. They played a short set that threatened to blow the other acts off the stage and I could have listened to them all night.
Originally a quartet and now a three-piece, ATW are Nashville-based with a stoner rock aesthetic but their sound is definitely their own; bluesy, heavy, powerful and yet intimate. Their style will be familiar to those of you who grew up listening to 70’s heavy rock bands and other artists that took an experimental route and widened the narrow confines of what was expected from musicians at the time; bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Sabbath, Ten Years After, Hendrix as well as blues practitioners like Junior Kimbrough and Dr. John. Familiar, but not without surprises; ATW pay respect to the past but are firmly anchored in the present with a sound and aesthetic totally their own, they are truly creative in process as well as end-result.
As you engage with this album, note how absolutely tight the playing is with ridiculous levels of talent and craftsmanship on display. The songs are beautifully constructed in a way to take you out of your current state of being and float you onto another planet entirely; emotionally resonant and satisfying in the way they resolve and echo around a theme. This is music built on contrasts; light/shadow, soft/loud and twists and turns. Also pay attention to the consistently excellent drumming of Robby Staebler; just like John Bonham did for Led Zep, while being the driving force for the music, Staebler provides space for the band to play into; not just keeping time but constructing a framework for creative expression and movement. At the risk of being redundant, listen to the percussion!
The album opens with a slow atmospheric build on “Funeral for a Great Drunken Bird” , a chugging tempo and riff and then lead guitar breaks out and sets the tone for the next hour of aural pleasure.
“When God Comes Back” is very reminiscent of Zeppelin’s own “Black Dog” cut on ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ with a call and response structure; the a cappella vocal line and then absolutely huge riff in reply will have you nodding your head and tapping your toes right away. Thereafter the chord progressions and echoey vocals take some unexpected turns leading to a Black Sabbath-style solo to close the track the way it started. If you at all like rock music, this is going to make you smile.
All Them Witches’ sound is unusually well-suited to vinyl (especially the excellent heavy-weight re-release on New West Records) but I realize that most (if not all) of you will listen to a digital stream and it’s not a problem; the ambiance will still present itself like a sonic comforter wrapped around your head inducing feelings of bliss and, if you let it, an altered state of mind.
My favorite track on the album is “The Marriage of Coyote Women“. Bluesy, supremely heavy and atmospheric. The selection and mix of instruments is perfect; bass and harmonica lead out to guitar weaving through the layers along with electric piano (unfortunately keyboardist Jonathan Draper left the group in October 2018 and I miss his sound-shaping and phrasing on ATW’s later albums.) Regardless of my preferences, every track on this album offers its own rewards; “Swallowed by the Sea” is hypnotic with a massive, crushing riff; “Charles William” mixes traditional folk lines with freak-out heavy rock; “The Death of Coyote Woman” picks up the refrain from “Marriage” and explores further songlines in a Hendrix-like manner, soothing and pounding, resonating and lulling to an extended fugue-like instrumental conclusion (listening to the interplay between guitar, drums and bass is a music lesson at the highest level). “Romany Dagger” is another track with a traditional/folksy feel similar to some of the explorations from The Beatles and Led Zeppelin with great depth and breadth of musical skill stamping the band’s signature all over the song. The album ends, fittingly, with an all-out instrumental stomp on “Surface to Air Whistle” demonstrating yet again the tightness and paradoxical looseness of the band; add a great mix and remarkable musicianship for an exceptional offering.
All Them Witches offer a new generation of rock-lovers (and some of us veterans) an homage to the past while staying current and relevant. Catch them live if you can, especially in a smaller venue where you can get close and immersed in the incredible energy, soul and sheer joy to be found in great music played well.