In an age where certain media outlets are all too quick to pronounce rock ‘n’ roll as dead, one would imagine that a meteoric career in music was no longer possible. Out to prove this blinkered thesis wrong is Aaroon Keylock, a teenage guitar prodigy who has, over the course of a few short years, packed more onto his CV than most bands manage in a lifetime. ‘Cut against the grain’ is Aaron’s debut album and he has more than earned his stripes; biding his time, rather than rushing into the studio, and honing his chops before festival audiences and partisan crowds alike. Aaron has, in the last few years, decimated Bloodstock (2014), laid waste to Download (2015) and toured with the likes of Dan Patlansky, Wilko Johnson and Blackberry Smoke (to name but few) and in doing so he has left few heads unturned. As a result, ‘Cut against the grain’ is set to appear amidst a tidal wave of anticipation and may well be one of the biggest blues releases of 2017. The question, of course, is can any album live up to such a whirlwind of hype and the answer, sent screaming out into the night from the very first bars of opening number ‘all the right moves’ is a resounding yes.
Tracked in LA with producer Fabrizio Grossi (Zakk Wylde, Slash & Dave Navarro), the eleven track ‘Cut against the grain’ is a raucous outing that does much to capture Aaron’s vivid live presence. Opening with the hurtling road rock of ‘All the right moves’, the album immediately captures the attention as Aaron’s increasingly Faustian guitar work gets an ample showcase. Rooted in blues, there’s a punkish quality to Aaron’s youthful voice and a nervous energy shot through the song that is spectacularly life-affirming. In a heart-beat we’re catapulted into the second track, the complex ‘Down’ with its multiple time-signatures and dusty guitar work demonstrating a maturity in Aaron’s writing that has undoubtedly come as a result of his time on the road. It’s back to full-throttle rock on ‘Medicine man’, a bristling slice of Americana that sounds like the Black Crowes covering Mudhoney. It’s one of those tracks that nails its beat to your feet whilst the gospel-flavoured chorus will see your soul soar as the track progresses. Some of the insecurity of being a young man caught up in a web that has been spun over decades creeps into ‘Falling again’, a potent track that details Aaron’s relationship with rock ‘n’ roll, but the end result is filled with ambition, the chorus capturing a Rolling Stones vibe that recalls that band at their creative peak. One of Aaron’s earliest songs, ‘Just one question’ has a Gary Moore vibe that belies the youth of its creator and there’s a deeply emotional quality to Aaron’s guitar work that makes each note tear at the heart with sensational force. In contrast ‘Against the grain’ is a full-blooded rock ‘n’ roll sleigh ride that tears away down the slope on the back of a slide guitar riff that makes full use of the attitude that powered ‘Rollin’ and tumblin’’ whilst truly making it Aaron’s own.
The second half of the album kicks off with ‘that’s not me’, another track that remains tethered to the blues and yet plays with the alternative vibe noted on ‘Medicine man’. It suggests Aaron spent the majority of his formative years absorbing a vast array of music like a sponge to the extent that he can now harness his flashing fingers to any style he so pleases and the results are always individual and exciting. A sweet, American-flavoured ballad that sits somewhere between G’n’R and the Meat Puppets, ‘try’ eschews the firepower deployed elsewhere on the album for a naked introduction that slowly allows for the introduction of piano and the full band as the track progresses. In contrast, ‘spin the bottle’ has a strangely English vibe that is entirely charming and full of youthful energy. A late-album highlight, ‘sun’s gonna shine’ is simply brilliant with swathes of aching slide guitar poured over a pummelling percussive backdrop. It rocks. Listen to it. The album concludes with ‘no matter what the cost’, a sweet acoustic end that perfectly caps the album thanks to an emotional and honest performance from Aaron.
Aaron Keylock has spent the last few years honing this selection of songs to perfection and it shows. Yet, whilst the writing is perfect, he has not allowed himself to fall into the track of over-perfecting the sound – ‘cut against the grain’ sounds natural and unforced, with rich acoustic guitars and cutting leads set against the raw power of a kick-ass live band rather than a bagful of studio trickery. For once the hype is real, and on ‘Cut against the grain’ every song shines in its own unique way. It is a stunning record and one of which its author should be justly proud. This is the album that will make Aaron Keylock a household name and deservedly so – don’t miss this astonishing album. 10