Sometimes, it’s easy to forget we’re in 2018. Looking around, we see a country that’s (still) battling for racial and gender equality, class mobility, and peace between ourselves and foreign countries. We have students and young people protesting the decisions of their elder elected leaders, dressing in outlandish clothes and listening to music that speaks of free thought and individualism. Turn on a radio and you’ll swear you were back in 1969. That’s because young bands like Black Coffee aren’t afraid of looking in the rearview mirror at the history of rock music and the lessons the pioneers have left behind in order to keep moving the genre forward. They’re one of a new class of retro-rockers that is using that hot-blooded classic rock sound as a vehicle to go wherever the hell they want, top down and radio turned up!
Take One, the debut album of Black Coffee, debuted on April 20 and has been a slow-burning fire that could become an inferno at any minute. The nine-song album begins with “Creamer”, an acoustic intro to the first single, “I Barely Know Her”. The trio, consisting of singer/bassist Ehab Omran, hotshot guitarist Justin Young, and stick-swinger Tommy McCullough, open with a hot, heavy, bluesy riff that drips sweat and sex. When Omran comes in, his high, gritty voice cuts through the smoky mix and hits you right between the eyes. “Hurricane”, the next track, shows the band wasn’t just influenced by 60’ and 70’s bands. The guitar riff/drum beat echo the glory days of Van Halen, and Omran’s vocals remind one of the great Axl Rose. The chorus gang vocals are a revival for anyone who lived through the 80’s. Young’s solo is a doozy, filled with fiery blues, distortion, and whammy bar that feel like a musical middle finger to the face of the school principle.
Then comes the hot streets, fighting-on-a-Saturday-night sound of “Monica”, a real slick track that builds up adrenaline and is packed with testosterone. It’ll getcha goin’, quick! “Born to Lie” features a slightly-borrowed AC/DC intro riff, but it’s easily forgivable. The entire track feels like it’s a mixture of someones 70’s rock playlist, but it’s so well done and fun to listen to that it’s hard to criticize. What does become slightly irritating is the fact that frontman Ehab Omran tends to sit at the top of his vocal range (and sometimes, goes a little too far) several times throughout the album, especially on this track. While he does possess a unique, strong voice, it seems as though the goal wasn’t to play to his vocal strengths, but to push his voice to a point it really can’t, and shouldn’t, reach. Rock-n-roll isn’t a science, though, and that sound will only improve over time.
The most promising and exciting track on the disc is “The Traveler”, easily my favorite of Black Coffee’s offerings. A young band capable of writing such a mature, grandiose, sprawling musical journey is destined for great things. Omran’s voice comes from an astral plane, a place far away from here and amongst the stars and clouds of vapor and smoke. Beautifully composed, always surprising, and never derivative, it’s a refreshing bit of originality and is performed fearlessly.
Like “Born to Lie”, the track “Psychadelic Red” is a fun journey that isn’t necessarily innovative, but is incredibly lively and catchy. It also features a standout performance from drummer Tommy McCullough, which makes it worth jamming more than once. “Fade”, the penultimate track, has a rocking little intro riff that starts the song off hot, and the band never lets up. The attitude is rude and rockin’, but, once again, Omran really swings for the fences with the high notes, and it doesn’t always pay off. “Fade” does, however, carry a chemistry that reminds me of Slash and Myles Kennedy, who happen to be one of my favorite musical projects around. The song is a short burst of energy, and would have been a great final track, but Black Coffee saves something special for their finale.
The crawling, pensive intro riff of “Away” might fool you into believing it’s a ballad, or some sort of mystical instrumental outro, but you’d be wrong. When the main riff kicks in, you’re stomping your feet and jamming along as Justin Young breaks into his most outstanding guitar solo of the entire album, which is really saying something (the kid can PLAY). At no point is it repetitive or hammy, and it really pays tribute to the guitar forefathers we all know and love. From beginning to end, the track is a delight, and a hell of a way to end your first album.
While there are a number of rock bands out there who are reinventing modern rock by going classic, including the increasingly-popular Greta Van Fleet, few are as proficient or rawly talented as Black Coffee. They have a great ear for music, they dazzle with deft, borderline epic songwriting, and they understand dynamics and the importance of song order on an album. Take One isn’t a perfect debut album, but it’s raw, uncut, and unfiltered- it’s the spirit of rock and roll! It’s not the plastic, shiny, overproduced bullshit you’ll hear so many young people peddling as “real” music nowadays, and that’s what makes it so great. With Take One, this scrappy trio of noisemakers have announced their arrival, and they are hot, bold, and filled with energy… you know, kinda like Black Coffee.