While there’s nothing as obviously derivative as the theme to the TV series “Ponderosa” on Moonlight Revival, this Atlanta quartet are covering some well-traveled trails. It’s a good thing it’s an enjoyable listen for the most part, despite occasionally venturing into “guilty pleasure” territory and being unoriginal.
Given the album title, it’s no surprise they owe a debt to Creedence Clearwater Revival, but that’s only the jumping off point for Ponderosa’s tour of its roots-rock and classic rock progenitors.
And although some of these songs sound like B-sides or outtakes from Ponderosa’s forefathers, they’re not topping the hit singles of the band’s influences, which is a shame, because they’re clearly trying hard and the album sounds like they’ve hired a well-paid production team to polish the record to a Nickelback-like sheen. That team includes producer Joe Chiccarelli, who has previously produced The White Stripes and My Morning Jacket, and it was mixed by Russ Fowler, who has worked with John Mayer and Stone Temple Pilots, so it’s no surprise that this is not a lo-fi production.
The songs themselves hit a few high points here and there, but seldom equate to more than the sum of their parts. A highlight is the gospel redemption anthem of “Hold On You,” which crafts a sonic temple from a Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque blistering blues rock instrumentation and features the best Paul Rodgers-style vocals since Eddie Vedder launched Bad Company II (aka Pearl Jam).However, when they journey down the “Old Gin Road,” it sounds like Rodgers’ earlier band Free doing “Hold On You” again, but at a quicker riff-rock pace. It comes off like AC/DC without the grit (and a tad less testosterone), or George Thorogood without the snakeskin jacket. They even hit an a capella Doobie Brothers moment near the end, but it doesn’t have the same soul sensibility.
“Penniless” and “Pistolier” are the tracks that owe the greatest debt to the shambling banjo-driven country of The Grateful Dead (though the latter features some Fab Four-style harmonies), whereas “Pretty People” begins by inverting the monumental Keith Richards riff from the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash,” and ends by ripping their “Gimme Shelter,” but the end product sounds like the best Black Crowes single that’s never been heard (complete with horns and honky-tonk piano).
“Revolution” could be a new hit that Alejandro Escovedo’s just given to Bruce Springsteen, while the lead cut “Broken Heart” could be a country ballad Tom Petty and Roy Orbison collaborated on during sessions for The Traveling Wilburys. Petty seems to be “The Devil On My Shoulder” again in the next song, at least vocally, but the instrumentation explores a space between Black Sabbath and ’60s obscurity The Creation; it’s a welcome (and dark) change in atmosphere that ventures closer to today’s psych-rock revivalists up and coming from the indie rock underground, including the spacey trance-like bit at the end. The next cut “Girl I’ve Ever Seen” is a letdown—it sounds like a Led Zeppelin outtake circa Physical Graffiti that should have stayed on the cutting room floor.
In fact, “You are easily/The most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen” provides a good example of the tired clichés Ponderosa are providing throughout these eleven tracks, and with song titles like “Broken Heart,” “Pretty People” and “Revolution,” it’s no big surprise that they are not winning many points in the creative and original lyrics category either.
In the end it’s impossible to pin down Ponderosa without providing a catalogue of their influences, for that seems to be all that they are at this point. Moonlight Revival is an entertaining release, at least.
Listening to it is like looking through an aural scrapbook of ’70s guitar rock: It’s enlightening to see which musical snapshots end up on which pages.
Hopefully on the band’s next record they’ll spend less time mimicking their roots in order to emulate that great lost classic rock record, and provide something truly new and revolutionary.
Moonlight Revival Tracklisting
- 1. Old Gin Road
- 2. I Don’t Mind3. Pistolier
4. Hold On You
5. Little Runaway
6. Pretty People
7. Girl I’ve Ever Seen
9. Broken Heart
11, Devil On My Shoulder