Black Tommy: Hail Satan
Black Tommy is an ambitious rapper; his earliest release available to public records (i.e. Bandcamp) is a full-length with a lot of songs longer than five minutes and a challenging fusion of styles blended. On the latest release, the confusingly (but potentially hilariously) titled, Hail Satan, Tommy introduces a live band: there are lyrical themes and motifs apparent, group dynamics and chanting, and monologues. Listening through several times, one can’t help noticing that the band is tight and knows how to build a song, which makes sense when you check out their line-up. It’s a kind of a local super group. Unlike typical super groups, these guys clearly have a lot of fun and things never lose momentum, even during slow parts, which carry naturally into choruses and on to later tracks.
But man, these songs are long, and the ‘rapping about domestic issues over heavy blues’ thing comes off as more Kid Rock than… whatever they were probably going for. It’s a little overly sleazy, which is an adjective they embrace on their own Facebook, so that’s probably just fine with them. When the third track, “Ella Fitzgerald,” comes in, it’s already kind of a schizo release, then you get this soulful song with verses that actually relate to the chorus, and a nice appearance by Keaton Collective’s Chad Fox, really solidifying the track with the most on-point vocals on the release. Somehow, this song, at over seven minutes long, doesn’t drag on at all, spacing out the hooks well enough to keep things fresh.
The rest of the EP kind of plays out the same way as this first half, with Chad showing up to croon after another 50s babe, this time Jackie Kennedy, and the other songs just jamming blues pentatonics with the usual “I got a girl pregnant and I can’t handle the consequences and responsibility thereto pertaining” kind of rap lyrics. The production is solid; each instrument has character and sits well, but the vocals sometimes stand out in a harsh way, especially the less expert voices. There aren’t many ‘bad’ parts, though, and the band clearly has a professional skill set when it comes to song construction, and they can all play rock solidly. There are just a few too many parts that remove the listener from an enjoyable head space. Anytime you’re telling a historical figure to suck a part of your anatomy, you’re relegating yourself one step closer to ‘party rock.’
But that may be where this album would really shine: you’re kickin’ it with 7-10 people, beers flowin’, smoke in the air, and you don’t want to bump rap, rock is too much of a bummer, and there’s some diversity in music taste present. So you put on Black Tommy and no one objects (well, if you skip the intro, which is pretty off-putting). It’s fun, probably more so to play, but it’s a low-ceiling, high-floor kind of music. There are good moments and the fact that Black Tommy started employing a live band seems to have been a pretty fun project for all involved.