Big Head Todd and The Monsters: Rocksteady


The challenge for a band with the longevity of Big Head Todd and The Monsters is how to subtly reinvent themselves without undermining the style they’ve cultivated during the course of their career. The Colorado group has struggled in that regard (see 2004’s Crimes of Passion), but Rocksteady is fresh in ways even the band might not expect.

The quartet sounds like they are right in their element from the opening title track because the lyrical nod to Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” is as knowing a gesture as is Todd Park Mohr’s naturally mellifluous guitar solos. The rhythm section of bassist Rob Squires and drummer Brian Nevin, now partners with keyboardist Jeremy Lawton,  and while none of the three are technically innovative, they provide a solid foundation for the front-man.

Todd’s a fairly soulful singer which contrasts nicely with the tuneful strains of harmonica he plays on that track. Unfortunately, it’s not his voice but his twisting guitar interlude that captures the passion he’s aiming to communicate in honor of “Muhammad Ali.”  On “After Gold,” a ballad heavy on harmonies, soft chiming guitars and acoustic piano, BHTM barely eludes easy listening, while on the faint funk in “Happiness Is” and the reggae-styled hippie retro “Back to the Garden,” the use of horns rather than orchestration maintains their rootsy credibility.

The gentle acoustic take on the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” evinces some genuine imagination as Todd and his comrades are especially animated there, and equally so during “Smokestack Lightning.”  But to include a familiar blues cover on this, their eighth album of original material, begs the question of whether BHTM will ever transcend their roots.  In such instances, Big Head and The Monsters’ ingenuous simplicity ultimately works in their favor. Still, while it’s hard not to like these guys, it’s equally difficult to develop a real passion for it.

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