Not even a minor stroke could stop Five Horse Johnson from rockin' and, if anything, vocalist and harpist extraordinaire Eric Oblander's brush with the beyond only served to inspire the band's fifth album, 2006's The Mystery Spot, that much more. Also benefiting from Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster's imposing guest appearance throughout (hear him take over "Ten-Cent Dynamite" with his outro solo), the record showcases a noticeably reinvigorated 5HJ -- not really messing with their successful, rootsy hard rock formula, so much as tackling it with renewed appetite. Starting with the opening title track's aggressive 5/6 blues shuffle, where Oblander's raunchy vocal pays discreet homage to early, pre-Dada Captain Beefheart, and continuing through gritty stomps like "Feed That Train" and the energized "La Grange" groove of "I Can't Shake It," where his harmonica punctuates Brad Coffin's geeetar-grit with soaring wails. Then there's the evocatively named standout "Of Ditch Diggers and Drowning Men"; co-written with former Big Chief member Phil Durr (who also contributes second guitar), it is further fleshed out with slide guitars and organs for a laid-back, down-home sound the Black Crowes used to own the patent on. The remaining cuts do their aforementioned comrades ample justice, without necessarily guaranteeing themselves a spot on future set lists, but The Mystery Spot's overall consistency and reliable sonic qualities (bottom line: few bands pull this music off so well) still offer Five Horse Johnson fans plenty of reasons to celebrate their return.
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