Arnold Mitchem – Drive
10 songs – 35 minutes
Over a near 30-year career, Arnold Mitchem has been a side man (he played bass in the proto-cowpunk LA band Wild Blue Yonder alongside Jeff Buckley and the Blasters’ wonderful Keith Wyatt, amongst others), a poet, the leader of the roots-Americana outfit, Bourgeois Gypsies, and a solo artist. Drive is his third solo album after the all-instrumental releases, Mojave Moon and Desert Dream, and is an enjoyable collection of fairly traditional blues-rock with a fair chunk of blues thrown into the mix.
Unfortunately, neither the accompanying media material nor Mitchem’s website provide a huge amount of information on Drive, other than that it was recorded at Trout Gulch Studio in Aptos and mixed at Mars Studio in Santa Cruz, produced by Mitchem and mastered by Monster Lab/Eric Broyhill. It is not obvious if Mitchem played all the instruments and provided all the voices himself or if other musicians were involved. He is however credited as the writer or co-writer of all 12 songs on the album.
The majority of the album sits at the rockier end of the blues-rock spectrum, but very much in the “traditional” blues-rock sense. Like the works of Tom Petty or Neil Young, these are songs are work equally well in a full band setting (as on Drive) or strummed on an acoustic guitar with a single singer. The first track, “Shout”, highlights Mitchem’s road worn, ragged voice over a funky rock two-chord verse leading to some nice interplay between voice and guitar. The descending bass line of “Chains” has hints of the distinctive riff behind “These Boots Are Made For Walking”. “No Time” is a mid-paced stomper based around an acoustic guitar that recalls the country rock of the likes of the Marshall Tucker Band. Indeed, several of the song structures and the catchy choruses recall that early 1970s era where country-rock was at its peak. The title track recalls Jim Stafford’s classic “Swamp Witch” while the single-note intro riff of “Right Amount Of Wrong” has echoes of the same time period.
This is an album however where the focus is on the song, not the soloist. Conspicuous by its absence is the overt virtuosity that can sometimes overshadow the actual songs on some releases. Indeed, there are surprisingly few solos on Drive, given that many of the songs are in that 1970s rock vein that often attracted over-long and over-wrought wailing from the guitarists of the era. “Chains” has a melodic wah-wah’ed guitar solo, and the grinding rock of “Turned On Me” also has a short repeated solo. The playing throughout may not be flashy, however, but it fits the music perfectly. Mitchem also has a tremendous raspy voice. His vocal performance on the gentle minor key “Grace” is particularly noteworthy, as is the delicate piano playing on that track.
Lyrically, Drive is an album of reinvention, re-birth and redemption, often involving physical relocation, reflecting Mitchem’s own personal situation when he wrote the songs. Overall, Drive is an entertaining album of road songs, perfectly crafted to accompany a long road trip. Definitely one to check out if you like well-written traditional blues-rock songs from the likes of Bob Segar.