Sour Ops is a collection of some of the most talented rock ‘n’ roll musicians from Nashville and Memphis, veterans of beloved Tennessee bands like Sixty-Nine Tribe, Snakehips, Triple X, Neighborhood Texture Jam, and Tav Falco and Panther Burns, among many others. Led by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Price Harrison – a ridiculously-talented polymath who, aside from being a talented musician, is also an architect, photographer, video producer, and owner of the band’s Feralette Records label – Sour Ops also includes skilled music-makers like bassist Tony Frost, guitarist Mark Harrison (Price’s brother) and drummer George Lilly who contributed to the hellfire and brimstone rock ‘n’ roll debut album that is the band’s Family Circuit.
Family Circuit opens with a rowdy, mostly-instrumental song that captures the listener’s ears with a torrential downpour of psychedelic-drenched, multi-tracked guitars, crashing drumbeats, and throbbing bass lines that roar beneath a rowdy chant of “U.S.A.” (which, appropriately, is also the song’s title). The song is either a sly commentary on blind American patriotic rhetoric or else it merely echoes the mindless jingoistic cheering of fans at a sporting event; either way, it’s a rockin’ little sucker. The album’s title track reminds of Neil Young’s poppier ‘70s-era records like After the Gold Rush, the song an up-tempo rocker with a discerning melody, Harrison’s nasally, Neil-like vox, and shards of angular guitarplay.
Nashville pedal-steel wizard Paul Niehaus brings the twang to the sublime “Everything,” a lonesome country-rock ballad that displays a different side to Sour Ops’ sonic Sturm und Drang. Harrison’s sprawling vocals again evoke Young, channeling the rock legend’s country side but with a softer, more distinctive emotional heft. Harrison’s former Sixty-Nine Tribe bandmate John Sheridan (a musical genius, IMHO) contributes the slinky, sensual “Phonograph,” the mid-tempo rocker reminiscent of the Stones but with a lil’ bit more soul. John takes the microphone here, his vocals complimented by splashes of wiry guitar, Tony Frost’s tough-as-nails bass lines, and drummer George Lilly’s driving rhythms. In a more enlightened musical era, this one could have been a chart-topping, FM radio contender.
The key to Sour Ops’ entertaining stroll through rock ‘n’ roll history is the band’s uncanny ability to provide familiar vintage sounds with their own unique edge. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Not Enough,” the best song the Replacements never recorded. Written by the Harrison brothers and sung by Mark with his signature sandpaper drawl, the song’s shambolic vibe and reckless instrumentations combines the ‘Mats’ trademark swagger with a (appropriate) Big Star melodic undercurrent. But the addition of background harmonies, ringing guitars, and subtle percussion creates a new flavor from old ingredients. The shimmering “Mind Like Glue” also treads dangerously close to power-pop turf with its big chords, Beatle-esque harmonies, and livewire guitar licks. An unbridled rocker with cutting fretwork, a deep melodic line, and explosively lead-footed drumbeats supporting a brilliant lyrical tale, “All That I Want” combines the muscle and sinew of the Stooges or Iggy Pop’s best solo work with a menacing vibe and an underlying, ‘80s-styled instrumental palette.
“Stockcar” is another Sheridan song, a metaphoric rocker that careens from guardrail to guardrail at an alarming pace, Sheridan taking on the vocals above jagged shards of feedback-laden guitar that crackle like lightning above a uranium-heavy rhythmic foundation courtesy of Messrs. Frost and Lilly. “See the Light” is another Alex Chilton-styled, pop-turbocharged tune full of spiraling guitars and shimmering keyboards, timely backing harmonies, and wall-of-sound instrumentation that creates a certain chaotic energy that is anchored by Harrison’s soulful, plaintive vocals while the album-closing “Alabama Mall Child” is yearning story-song with vibrant lyrical imagery and solid instrumentation that blends just the merest of folk and country influences into the song’s otherwise rockin’ soundtrack.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line:
Contrary to conventional industry wisdom, rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead – and Sour Ops proves my point with the delightfully raucous Family Circuit. Price Harrison and his musical gang take their obvious cues from the legends of classic ‘70s and ‘80s rock but manage to provide this original material with a contemporary spin via their imaginative songwriting and skilled instrumentation. In addition to Family Circuit, Sour Ops has also released a fab 12” single comprised of “Photograph” and “Mind Like Glue,” two of the album’s best tunes and a safe bet for vinyl collectors looking for cheap thrills. Covers of both the Sour Ops CD and the vinyl single feature striking (different) photos of African-American model Indya James, the images perfectly capturing the dignity, mystery, and soul inherent in the band’s music. Grade: A+ (Feralette Records, released October 26, 2018)
Rev. Keith A. Gordon, That Devil Music, September 2018