Big Head Todd and The Monsters’ 2014 album Black Beehive radiated a sense of the self- discovery no doubt sourced in 100 Years of Robert Johnson, their homage to a blues icon from three years prior. The quartet reconfigured themselves again as the ‘Big Head Blues Club’ last year to pay tribute to Willie Dixon on Way Down Inside which effectively set the stage for the group to celebrate their thirty-year career in 2017. As such, New World Arisin’ is a much more eclectic affair than its predecessor, but one hardly less memorable.
The aforementioned reaffirmations of roots, equally earnest and authentic, serve the purpose of reminding that Todd Park Mohr and company are less an innovators than stylists. So it’s perfectly appropriate this their eleventh studio album opens enticingly with “Glow,” an implicit acknowledgment of the influence of Jimi Hendrix. The title song immediately following further reinforces the longstanding impression BHTM doesn’t need to stray far from the blues to forge potent heavy rock.
As demonstrated on “Trip,” though, this quartet’s instrumental versatility goes a long way in elevating their work above the predictable. Accents from multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Lawton offer an effective contrast with Todd’s quick guitar solos there, while the leader’s axe dominates the dreamy languor of “Mind.” But piano and song lyrics are the focus of “Wipeout Turn,” along with an emphasis on harmony vocals the foursome uses only sparingly: the rare inclusion in such arrangements only makes that singing more effective.
Mohr uses wah-wah tones on his guitar as he grinds out funk variations throughout “Long Coal Train” And there’s the slightest echo of earlier records such as Sister Sweetly in “Damaged One,” suggesting how successfully BHTM have formulated a recognizable sound by incorporating just the right amount of pop into their self-composed material. As the rhythm section of bassist Rob Squires and drummer Brian Nevins elevates the propulsion of the quasi-punk “Detonator,” Big Head Todd and the Monsters ratchet up the intensity and speed at which they play: in doing so, the quartet enhances its credibility as a tightly-knit ensemble while reaffirming its collective grasp on styles both contemporary and classic.
Produced by Big Head himself in the group’s Colorado home, New World Arisin’ adds to BHTM’s consistent body of work over the years, despite the fact it closes a bit too carefully with a cover song of the aforementioned guitar icon, “Roomful of Mirrors.” As a result, while that cut and other forthright originals here like “Under Your Wings” may not change anyone’s life, such tracks, like most of this music, radiate a sense of optimism and purpose ever so welcome in these fragmented times.