BLUES BLAST MAGAZINE LATEST APRIL ISSUE
Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8
OTIS – Eyes of the Sun | Cleopatra Records
Executive Producer and guest guitarist – Paul Nelson
11 tracks / 57:24
OTIS received major praise for their 2014 debut album, Tough Times, Tribute to John Brim, with none other than Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top calling it “Stunning!” Their tribute to the famed Chicago bluesman was sweet bunch of Southern blues-rock and their follow-up disc, Eyes of the Sun, is equally compelling and chock full of new original material.
The band is based out of Sulphur Well, Kentucky, a rural community that is sort of between Louisville and Nashville. This four-piece group has a wonderful grasp of southern rock, roots, and blues and their sound is well broken in, though the members are all relatively young (in their early 20s). These fellows include Boone Froggett on vocals and guitar, Steve Jewell on guitar, John Seeley on the electric bass, and Andrew Gilpin behind the drum kit.
Eyes of the Sun is OTIS’ first album since signing to Cleopatra Records out of Los Angeles, and the band wrote eleven of the dozen tracks. The album was self produced with the help of David Barrick, who also engineered and mastered the disc; Paul Nelson acted as the executive producer. Nelson is a fine guitarist in his own right, and is also a Grammy winning producer who has worked with Johnny Winter and pretty much every artist you have ever hear of. Maybe I exaggerate a little, but you should see the list…
This hour-long set starts off with “Change,” a slightly psychedelic Southern blues rocker with rich guitar tones and fat bass. Froggett has an edgy tenor voice (a la Hendrix or Kravitz), and there is a touch of soul with the backing vocals of Sandra Dye and Bianca Byrd, so there is a lot going on here, but it all comes together well. Things get heavier and funkier with the next track, “Blind Hawg,” which features some neat bass breaks from Seeley, and plenty of melodic guitar soloing.
The title track has a bit more Delta influence with a healthy dose of slide guitar, and “Eyes of the Sun” is a six minute slow-grinding blues jam with a clever variety of rhythms that keep things interesting throughout. There are also a few tracks that defy categorization, such as “Lovin’ Man,” a hard rocker with a killer back beat and a hard-hitting guitar courtesy of guest artist (and producer) Paul Nelson, who certainly knows his way around the fretboard. Another very different song is “Relief in C,” an instrumental folk piece that includes sitar, and some lovely mandolin parts from Danny Williams.
Veteran keyboardist Eddie Stone sits in on a few of the tracks with his Hammond, which would make one anticipate an Allman Brothers feel, but the overall effect is more “rock” than “Southern rock.” “Shake You” has blistering guitars set to a funky beat, and “Turn to Stone” come off like a heavy Joe Cocker tune. Finally, there is the strong closer, “Let Your Love Shine Down,” an eight minute anthem that brings Dye and Byrd back to join in with the vocal harmonies, while Stone gets to move forward in the mix a little.
OTIS did a fine job with writing and arranging all of these original tunes, and they also took a shot at reworking one cover tune. “Washed My Hands” is a heavy modern take on “I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water,” which was written by Cowboy Joe Babcock and recorded by Johnny Rivers in 1966. This quartet added a syncopated backline, with thumping bass from Seeley and nice snare work from Gilpin. The overall effect is a driving chunk of swamp rock that is topped by Froggett’s slightly distorted vocals. This is nothing like the version Elvis recorded…
The guys in OTIS did a fine job with Eyes of the Sun, and fans of Southern rock and blues will find a lot to like here. The group has some shows coming up near their home and around the Midwest, plus they are opening up for Black Stone Cherry on some of their tour dates. If you want to learn more, head to their website to hear some samples of their hard work and to check out their gig calendar.
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com