Album Review: Wicked Spell

Chad Sullins and the Last Call Coalition

Wicked Spell

 

In 2012 we reviewed Incommunicado, the sophomore full-length album from Chad Sullins and his flat out impressive band, The Last Call Coalition.  We found a lot to love about that record, along with a few head scratchers.  Rekindled an old love affair with intelligent rock and roll, and walked away wondering what the future would bring for Sullins and company.  With Incommunicado, the theme of the day seemed to be scattershooting while figuring out how to grow up.  Not a bad thing, mind you – we’ve all been there so it wasn’t a knock.  Just more of a question, really, about what this outfit would turn into.

Wicked Spell provides one hell of an answer.  Credit Sullins for that, and give a hat tip to Mike McClure both for producing and for a co-write on the title cut.  Both men’s influence is all over this record and that is a very, very good thing.

The road is a hard place for any musician, but hardest perhaps for one with a family because an awful lot can get lost in translation across the miles.  That’s on top of what just gets flat out missed, mind you.  Sometimes the weight of those two things can crush a relationship, and the cleanup work required while one attempts to navigate the detritus of what once was can break a spirit even more easily than it can break a back.  Powerful stuff, the affairs of the heart.

Also often fodder for the process of writing terrific songs, which means the songwriter is doomed to a life as perhaps the most conflicted soul among us – sentenced to the task of mining tragedy for a literate sense of the profound, starving for the joy in the latter which can only be reached through the gateways of pain and loss.  It takes a certain maturity and strength of character to survive all of that, much less to spin gold from the strands of wreckage.  With Wicked Spell, Sullins announces himself to the world as a man possessed of both.

The enervating power of love gone bad is clearly called out on the opening track, a driving, perhaps a bit frightening cacophony of guitars and driving rhythm decrying the heart that will “promise you heaven as you wind your way through hell.”  The arrangement and tempo changes here are every bit as important as the lyrics.  Perhaps even moreso, frankly.  It’s a roller coaster ride and it’s utterly relentless.

Which makes the transition to the album’s first single, “Couple 1000 Miles,” absolutely jarring.  And therefore all the more effective.  The swagger and bluster of the opener disappear in a swirl of acoustic guitar and weathered, threadbare vocals leveling a thousand yard stare at truckstop prophets and broken highways, honky tonk angels and a motel haze.

 

What’s a couple thousand miles and a few more days

I touched the good life and can’t change my ways

I’m sorry, mama, it’s not just a phase

What’s a couple thousand miles and a few more days

 

Burning through years and gasoline

And I wouldn’t change the world for the things I’ve seen

I’ve tasted love and I’ve pissed it away

What’s a couple thousand miles and a few more days…

As the crescendo of anger rises on the chorus then fades away back into a quiet resignation, we’re left with the mental vision of a desiccated minstrel ground down to nothing and walking the road simply because it’s there.  But it’s not just a quittin’ song.  It’s eminently listenable, and the message resonates at some point in every life.  There’s even a bit of inspiration in the desolation, because really, what’s a little more road at this point?  Let’s get to it, Sullins seems to implore.

There’s plenty more here, too.  From the distortion and power on “Might Leave In The Fall” to the haunted introspection and bareknuckle honesty of “Dollars For Dimes,” it’s a revelation at every turn.  Wicked Spell is, at its core, a man’s soul laid bare for the world to visit and mourn.  Doesn’t cut a whole lot of new rows in the field, but the field it plows is fertile nonetheless and rife with the loamy odor of the times we’ve all lived through – or perhaps are living right now.

You can find more info at http://www.chadsullinslcc.com/index.html.  Tell you this:  Sullins is recuperating these days from a heart attack.  Word is that he’ll be okay and back at it full steam.  But there’s no denying that what he laid out on this album for is us unadulterated and real.  The tolls of the road are no joke, and neither is the life of the working artist who understands that music’s not a choice he made.  The choice made him before he was born, and this artist is coming fully into his own.  That’s very good news for any fan of real music made well and borne from the headwaters of a beating, timeless heart.

Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs.  When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline.  When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.

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