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Bravo Max Bravo Max
Album: Bullfighter Blues
Label: St Cait
Tracks: 15

American rock band 'Bravo Max' were originally formed in Dallas in 2007 and have taken on several forms since then, at one point being up to seven members strong.

They have released one previous full-length album and several singles, but more importantly, have over three hundred shows under their belt with some high profile opening slots along the way.

The new album 'Bullfighters Blues' heralds a shift of direction for the band which has now slimmed down to a trio consisting of Johnny Beauford, Jonathan Jackson and Garrett Padgett. Their website tells us that three years of collaborative writing have resulted in a record that goes from 'raucous Americana to progressive rock and roll' and is 'a dreamy flash of instrumental psychedelia mixed with easily accessible rock and roll'.

Johnny Beauford plays bass and is the main vocalist, Jonathan Jackson adds drums and backing vocals with Garrett Padgett on all guitars and backing vocals. Between them, they add some more instrumentation but are also complimented by a host of extra musicians across the tracks supplying flute, trombone, saxophone, trumpet, keyboards, pedal steel and hammond organ, which serves to fully flesh out the tracks.

All songs on 'Bullfighter Blues' are credited to Bravo Max who also produced it. The album was recorded by Matthew Barnhart at the Echo Lab in Argyle, Texas, mixed by Stewart Sikes and mastered by Billy Stull.

Opening track 'Prelude to Clean Slate' is a short instrumental and does exactly what is says on the tin in delivering a 'dreamy flash of instrumental psychedelia'. At one minute thirty-two seconds, it is long enough to hook the listener in but not so long as to outstay it welcome. Great playing all round and some fine flute which cannot help but conjure up images if Ian Anderson's Jethro Tull.

Having had the prelude, second song, 'Clean Slate' itself swaggers in all drums and guitars with the riff being doubled very effectively by the horns sounding brash and 'Northern Soul', hinting at classic Dexys Midnight Runners. Johnny Beauford's vocals fit perfectly with his nonchalant delivery and shades of Tom Petty in the phrasing. Fine playing by the band throughout, including a perky instrumental outro, which again feels a nod back to the 70's when such things were more commonplace.

'Salt Stones' is a bit slower with a sleazy, shuffle feel nudged along by some tight drum and bass with a heavy, muted guitar part on top. Another atmospheric vocal and the songs space and air produced lovely Red Hot Chilli Pepper resonances.

Track four 'Raise a Toast' is an early favourite of mine boasting more exemplary playing and an earthy, seventies retro feel.

At fifteen tracks, there is a lot to this album so I will just pick out a few more personal standouts, although to my ears the standard is consistent throughout so favourites will be very much a case of the listeners personal preference.

'Lay Low' is just a great rock song. It comes in on a doomy, reverbed guitar riff and ultra tight drumming with a restrained, resigned vocal sitting sweetly in the mix and every now and again bursts out into grungy 'Screaming Trees' territory before settling down once more. It does finally break free at about two minutes twenty with an epic guitar solo and exquisitely recorded bass pushing things along, then back into the chorus briefly before another fine instrumental playout that ends entirely appropriately in a squeal of feedback. As I said, just a great rock song!

'No Memory' is another one of those spare, lean, muted guitar led tracks they seem to do so well while the final song 'Seizure Girl' is more ballad based and put me in mind of Chris Stapleton's modern Americana and his take on 'Tennessee Whiskey'.

This album is a lot of fun and passes a nod and wink to several musical genres, let alone eras, but the band is still able to maintain a cohesive, recognisable identity. The playing throughout is splendid and although the additional musicians add depth and interest, the core Bravo Max trio are a real rock powerhouse that remain at the heart of this sound. Top it off with great recording and production values and it all adds up to a fine piece of work indeed.

Paul Jackson