THE TIME IS NOW - Back in Spades (Shock)
Given that so much contemporary music is derivative in some way – with ideas, structure, riffs and artistic spirit taking inspiration from artists, genres, eras and social movements of preceding decades – it's hard to identify any band that's genuinely original. So when your a rock band with garage tendencies and from Detroit, you're in a potentially invidious situation. Add to the mix the fact your guitarist just happens to be the offspring of Fred 'Sonic' Smith (from the MC5 and Sonic's Rendezvous Band) and Patti Smith, and your music is always going to be analysed critically.
So with that genealogical introduction, it's hard to be completely objective about the Back in Spades' mini-album, "The Time is Now", finally released on a label. Stephen Palmer's vocals are a mixture of Paul Stanley and Lou Gramm, and probably a more acquired taste than I'm inclined to appreciate. But Jackson Smith's guitar work has a mercurial quality that when unleashed sparks each and every single track. Songs such as Detroit Slums (here we come) and "Five Years Ahead" become a waiting game until Smith discards the inhibitions of structure and conjures some lead magic that would bring a tear to the old man's eye.
Some of the other tracks – notably "Better Than I Was Yesterday" – are closer to the west coast brand of hard rock than the Great Lakes states, and sit uncomfortably against harder tunes like "No Sympathy". And if the band wanted to avoid being lumped in with the Detroit garage scene and its guitarist's parentage, it shouldn't have included a cover of the Sonic's Rendezvous Band's "City Slang". But it did, and geez it's a cracker, clocking in at over 7 minutes of absolute hard rockin' brilliance, reaching a crescendo that Detroit proteges the world over will admire.
Back in Spades are not the best in the business, or even Detroit, but they have what it takes (whatever 'it' is, and wherever 'it' is that they're going, I don't know). With Smith now having left the band, they'll need to find a replacement with very large feet (metaphorically speaking) to fill Jackson's shoes. - Patrick Emery
The time certainly is now for this five-piece from Detroit with this eight-song, mini-album, which is easily one of the brightest debuts in a month of Sundays.
Back in Spades are a four-piece with Stephen Palmer on vocals and guitar, Jackson Smith on guitar, Anthony Rochon on bass and Joe Leone behind the traps. The musical antecedents of all but Leone would be unknown to all but a few outside of their musical backyard - he drummed for ultra-sharp guitar popsters The Fletcher Pratt on their last album.
This stuff is a few leagues removed from The Fletcher Pratt or anything as overtly pop - although a few of the tunes would hold up well on more enlightened radio. It's raging, guitar rock. Not slick or precise, but focused. Nothings wasted.
There's a solid majesty about the sound of Back in Spades: Loads of guitars with Palmer and Smith swapping licks with grim intensity, and a big fat bottom end. Both guitarists merit equal time and each complements the other. (How long have these guys been in each others pocket?) Palmer's vocals are tunefully ragged and edgy, giving the songs a rusty edge. Plus, the Spades know when not to play. It's called dynamics.
Babys Getting Higher hammers away and gives Palmer a nice platform to rip into a fiery lead. "Five Years Ahead" borrows a lyric from the better-known song of the similar title. "Better Than I Was Yesterday" catches a ride on a catchy riff and descending melody line. "No Sympathy" is a straight-ahead rocker, while "Cowboys and Indians" eases back the throttle and lets a healthy dose of harmonics bleed through to emerge as the pick of the litter. Detroit Slums (Here We Come) must be an ironic title. Its thumping backbeat and rollicking chorus stamp it - again - as something special.
The eight (hidden) track is a formidable cover of City Slang (if you have to ask youre in the wrong place) and it works just fine. Like its original owners, this one closes down Back in Spades sets. I can wear that and - this time around - I can even make out most of the lyrics. Cool...
There are plenty of wraps for this band - from the likes of The Sights to the Paybacks and Scott Morgan, if you check out their tidy but spartan web site. and the odd bit of local press has been coming their way. But make up your own mind. Copies of the disc are going out via Subterannean in New York. The Barman
PS: Saved this for last: Guitarist Jackson Smith is the son of Fred and Patti Smith - two names that should need no introduction in these parts. Not that you'd know it from the liner notes. And that may very well be deliberate. People should judge Back in Spades on their own considerable merits, not their bloodlines. Let it be so.
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