Grayson Capps & The Stumpknockers
By James Calemine
Rott-N-Roll, Grayson Capps’ third disc, sounds like gut-bucket, shitkicker electric blues. Capps’ mode of operandi abides in his ability to tell a story in song. Recorded in his home studio in Franklin, Tennessee, Rott-N-Roll showcases Capps’ storytelling and The Stumpknockers mercurial backwater musical landscape.
Born and raised in Alabama, Capps attended Tulane University on a theater scholarship, but his music earned him a spot opening for Keith Richards and The Replacements. Filmmaker Shainee Gabel adapted Capps’ father’s unpublished book—Off Magazine Street—into film starring John Travolta and the beautiful Scarlett Johansson called A Love Song For Bobby Long. Capps wrote four songs for the soundtrack, including the title track. He also made a cameo appearance in the film.
Each of these 13 songs tells a vivid story. “Back To The Country” evokes some backyard torch song that kicks off the evening. A red-eyed message lurks in the lyrics: ‘Comin' back to Amsterdam, a long way from Birmingham, Alabama/Coffee shops and red light whores, devil’s always at your door’ sets the tone. “Arrowhead” stands as such a strong composition that it transcends category; Delta blues or Traditional country. Into the second song on the disc, by the time the female chorus begins, the listener realizes these songs carry an emotional resonance.
“Gran Maw Maw” is one-minutes and thirty seconds of good clean fun…and a gasoline alley guitar solo. “Psychic Channel Blues” contains the lyrics, ‘She’s got the psychic channel on her brain/And if I’m unfaithful you know that phone line’s gonna ring’ in this slow tune that Capps sings in a redemptive resignation. “Big Black Buzzard” contains a buzz-saw guitar sound that cuts through the skin…this one will send folks to the dance floor. The song “Ike” would bring a smile to Townes Van Zandt’s face in a moonlight imagery: ‘Now I watched her as she walked down the street/Flower print polyester dress and no shoes on her feet/Ike was on the railroad, he’s looking up at the stars/And she disappears in his house, as the dogs begin to bark…’
Another foot-stomper, “Sun Don’t Shine on Willy”, still tells a great tale considering the infectious beat. The Stumpknockers: Tommy MacLuckie (guitars), Josh Kerin (bass) and John Milham (drums) provide a sturdy sound, and kudos must be sent to them for their talent. “Big Ole Woman” portrays a humorous story as the band plays like a run away freight train—with another great solo by MacLuckie. The song “Guitar” may be the most close-to-the-bone narrative on this collection. Capps lays on the cards on the table in the lines: ‘Holy Jesus, what became of you/All my life I thought that you’d come through/Your suicide it don’t mean much to me/Cause I’m not dead, I’m not dead, I’m not dead/I’m alive, I’m alive.’
Capps reads the lyrics with a preacher’s holy fever in “Fear Fruit Bearing Tree”—a minute-long sermon that traces the seed of original sin. “Sock Monkey” contends as the most heavy rock and roll song on Rott-N-Roll…a teeth grinding ditty created for loud speakers. The final cut, “Bacon” an instrumental, reiterates Grayson Capps & The Stumpknockers intention of playing knock-down-drag-out-whiskey-laced rock and roll as if it were the last call for their souls to be saved…