Tuesday, June 27, 2023

RJ Bloke: “Hold Drugs Dear” (2023) CD Review

RJ Bloke is the name that Patrolled By Radar’s lead singer and guitarist Jay Souza is recording and performing under these days, RJ being the initials of his first and middle names. And Bloke? Well, the bloke is sort of that other side of a musician, the person that often comes up with the songs, the character that gets on stage. It is a term that Nick Lowe has used in interviews to describe the part of him that is on stage and is sometimes unable to perform more mundane tasks. Hold Drugs Dear, the latest release from RJ Bloke, was begun just before the pandemic, and then pieced together during it. It features mostly original material written by RJ Bloke, who plays guitar and harmonica on this album, as well as provides lead vocals. Joining him on this disc are Eli Wulfmeier (of Leroy From The North) on rhythm guitar and lead guitar; Bosco Sheff (former member of Patrolled By Radar) on rhythm guitar and lead guitar; Davey Allen (of Davey And The Midnights) on piano and organ; Peter Curry (of Los Straitjackets) on bass, drums, percussion and mandolin (Peter Curry also recorded and mixed the tracks); Alex Moore (of Livingmore) on backing vocals; and Spencer Livingston (of Livingmore) on backing vocals.

RJ Bloke kicks off the album with “Born Thirsty,” a song that has popped up in Patrolled By Radar set lists for several years (if I recall correctly, they introduced it in 2015). It is a song I’ve loved seeing them perform, and it’s so good to get a studio recording of it here. “It’s got a power over me, a power over me/I was born thirsty.” This track features some really nice work on guitar. It is Eli Wulfmeier who joins RJ Bloke on guitar on this one. “Born Thirsty” is followed by “Where Are You Now,” a newer song, one that I saw Patrolled By Radar play at Tom Bergin’s Public House last week, and one that I immediately liked. Drink plays a part in this one too, with RJ singing, “Cold and dark elixir/I mixed you in the sink/It had an insane effect on me.” RJ Bloke delivers some good stuff on harmonica. This one also features some great work on electric guitar. Bosco Sheff joins RJ Bloke on guitar on this track.

“I Feel Found” is another song that Patrolled By Radar has been performing for several years. As I remember, they introduced it in early 2016.  It’s a wonderful song, and I’m surprised it took this long for it to find itself a home on an album. RJ Bloke’s delivery is great, and I’ve always loved this song’s lyrics. Here is a taste: “There’s no hurt in the desert sky at night/Shooting stars are flirting with satellites/In a place where troubles drown/I feel found.” This one has just a bit of a pop vibe mixed in with that great raw country rock sound, and is one of my personal favorites. Eli Wulfmeier plays guitar on this one. Then “All You Need Is Enough” is a mellower number with more of a folk vibe. RJ’s vocals are even more in focus on this one, supported by nice work on acoustic guitar, and great touches by Bosco Sheff. This one has some interesting lyrics, such as these lines: “Children singing without fear/All embracing the right hemisphere of their brain/Where all they need is enough/They don’t have to wait forever/This world is tethered to your heart/Your every deed is love/Now we have control over the weather/We know the truth now.”

“Feed It To The Fish” is the only song on this disc not written by RJ Bloke. It was written by Doug Kershaw, who released it as a single and also included it on his 1969 album The Cajun Way. The song is a lot of fun. There are several different elements at work here, including an Irish folk vibe, a Kinks-like garage sound and of course a Cajun thing. RJ Bloke delivers an excellent rendition of this delightful and kind of a crazy song. That’s followed by “Hold Drugs Dear,” the album’s title track, and also one of its strongest tracks. As I mentioned, this album came out of the pandemic, and this song’s lyrics mention Pfizer: “Swallow Pfizer ‘til you’re equal parts.” There is a lot to love about this song, including its lyrics. Check out these lines: “Carnivore, this is your brain/High on dinosaur remains/These things and more/Will entertain you/When you’re down/Bloated suits in Senate seats/Though I am dead upon my feet/I will not retreat/Into the safe and sound/Where we’re prettier and we don’t cry/One of the top ten reasons why/Nobody gets their own supply/We sell cars here/And we hold drugs dear.” Those first couple of lines quoted here playfully refer to that anti-drug commercial where the guy says, “This is your brain on drugs.” Remember that from the late 1980s? I also remember all the jokes, like “This is your brain on drugs with a side order of bacon.” I love what this song has to say, but I also love the way it is said. RJ Bloke’s vocal work is particularly good here. Eli Wulfmeier delivers some excellent work on guitar, and this track also features some wonderful work on piano. Darice Bailey plays piano on this one.

The “sha-la la-la” vocals at the beginning of “Coast Is Clear” come as a surprise, a sound that takes us back several decades. This song too contains some good examples of RJ Bloke’s talent for writing lyrics: “Radioactive werewolves of Chernobyl/How we defend against the kindness of a stranger/While we’re walking along/Down here on the Eastside/With the evidence/So far away.” This one also contains some really good work on keys. And this track features the addition of horns, with David Ralicke playing both saxophone and trombone, helping to make this one stand out. The disc concludes with “A Sailor’s Mind,” which returns to more of a country vibe and mentions drinking: “Fill me up with/Beer and liquor/I'm in love/With a stick figured girl.” Bosco Sheff plays guitar on this one.

CD Track List

  1. Born Thirsty
  2. Where Are You Now
  3. I Feel Found
  4. All You Need Is Enough
  5. Feed It To The Fish
  6. Hold Drugs Dear
  7. Coast Is Clear
  8. A Sailor’s Mind

Hold Drugs Dear was released on February 14, 2023 on Nomad Eel Records, and is apparently available on CD, vinyl and even cassette.

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