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Album Review : Blacktop Mojo – Pollen

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Review by Ritchie Birnie for MPM

How does this Texan five piece do it? Album after album they produce the goods and Pollen tops the lot and that is no easy feat.

Opening track “The End is Gonna Come” has a real sludgy guitar riff that had me thinking of Collective Soul. It slowly builds into that crescendo that Blacktop Mojo do so well but instantly you can feel something new and fresh on here and the whole album is filled with that new car smell.

There is a host of dark emotions breathing life into Pollen and this song is setting out the band and Matt James lyrics. It looks like there has been a whole heap of heartache between the self titled last album and Pollen and as sad as that is it has wrung out the musical juices. Never have I connected with an album so personally before. There has always been one or two tracks I could relate to but it is as if Pollen has been written from my recent life journey.

“Weary I Roam” is up next and this is another direction change. A simple riff and Matt doing his vocal gymnastics. The song is far too up beat and lively for the content but it makes for a banger and the guitar work is outstanding.

When Blacktop Mojo start with just an acoustic you know you are in for a treat and “I Can’t Tell” lives up to the hype. Matt sounds perfect and that old heartbreaker of women rears its head. The Collective Soul fuzz is back and this is as catchy as hell.

“Please Don’t Call” opens like a twisted Alice Cooper number with its spooky guitar and the female problems continue. This is being left clueless in a relationship, no idea what strings are being pulled but knowing your self being is being drained from within. This is a beautiful song that captures the feelings musically that are conveyed verbally.

There is a real indie feel to the opening of “Red Enough”. A simple guitar flick with on point drums from Nathan Gillis. This could be Daughtry or Three Doors Down if it were not for the distinctive power from Matt. Once again the songwriting is stunning and the band can wring every emotion out of you with such a simple song. The power is incredible.

A simple drum beat opens “Rise” and again we have another direction. The layered vocals are so effective. I would recommend this via headphones to really pull out the sound. As you can assume from the title this is uplifting but as with the rest of the album you can only get here through the troubled journey and the lyrics are just so descriptive and heart wrenching. As Matt starts to soar on this he digs his claws into your soul.

I was not expecting “As the Light Fades”. This is John Cougar Mellencamp or Bruce Springsteen during Paper and Fire or Born in the USA phase. This is a good time number and was made for the open highway or the summer campfire. You cannot help but enjoy this number no matter how out of place it finds itself on this deep and emotional album.

A slow Blues guitar click and piano opens up “Something’s Changed”. You can guess the lyrical content but this track is a soulful number that would not be amiss on The Commitments soundtrack. The horns add to the feel and Matt sounds like a preacher during the sermon as he tries to fathom direction.

How many of us “Shoulda Just Gone to Sleep? How many problems did not doing so cause and this is the guts of this one. It opens slow then builds to a huge anthemic monster. As if Matt is shouting the title to himself over and over. The song is built on frustration and you can feel it in every instrument, every word.

The album closes on two stunning tracks, the first being “Born to Lose” and this was instantly my favourite track on the album. This rang true to me personally. I am sure anyone unsure of where they are or where they are going will instantly fall in love with this and The recurring questioning in the opening lyrics gets stuck in your brain and if you are like me it will be bouncing around your head for days until you have to play again.

This is masterpiece the likes of which only Blacktop Mojo can do. The music is powerful and the message is almost holy. This is soul searching at its deepest. Truly stunning.

After the last song had gotten me so strongly I was not ready for “Like Wild Horses”. Just the acoustic, keys and Matt and you have to wonder how something so simple can grab you, wring you out and leave you in a mess on the floor.

Like the look that went through you in the lyrics this song went into my veins and ended up in my heart. A song gifted by angels.

Pollen is a softer album than what has come before, it feels like an album for the band, They know their sound, their appeal, their fanbase but sometimes that is not enough, sometimes you have to strive for more and they ended up reaching for and delivering greatness.

I have loved this band since the debut. I have been through every album, every cover and loved every step of their journey and it seems to me they have the world in their grasp. Pollen is an emotional rollercoaster that has an inner strength to survive and a musical backbone to separate the great from the good.

As I wait for my vinyl copy to arrive from across the Atlantic I will finish this review the same way I have finished the ones that have gone before by begging the band to finally follow that journey of my vinyl and come to the UK as I am fed up saying Blacktop Mojo are the best band I have never seen live.


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