Swedish retro-rock, thy name be STEW. A formidable power trio hailing from the land of krona, Stew specializes in blending heavy blues rock with psychedelic soul. The savory results of that recipe can be heard on their new EP, Hot.
The fiery, wah-drenched guitar of axe-slinger Nicklas Jansson introduces us to the band on opening track “Might be Keeping You”, while the Latin and blues-inspired rhythms of drummer Nicklas Dahlgren give the track a seductive momentum that never lets up. The harmony and groove between Dahlgren and bass guitarist/vocalist Markus Åsland is evident from the get-go. Åsland’s vocals are sincere, pained, and delivered with just the right pinch of grit, never strained or overdone. “If This Will Be the End” feels especially nostalgic, opening with a SRV-inspired riff that originates from the fully-loaded single-coil pickups of Jansson. The glassy, soulful groove and soaring, lightly accented vocals of Åsland paint a nostalgic portrait for the listener, a blue-grey scene of loneliness and heartache. The slow moodiness of the track quickly changes to a foot-stomping roadhouse romp when “Tongue-Tied” starts up. The slick, oily riffs of Jansson always serve the song well, never stealing the thunder from the vocals or the rich flavor of the rhythm section. That’s not to say that Dahlgren and Åsland don’t give the guitarist his time in the spotlight. The guitar solos on Hot are backed by a full bass and drum assault, but never become lost in the mix. “Dig for Gold”, the final track on the EP, has a Led Zeppelin-esque riff, but the vocals are decidedly more muddy and grimy. Stew doesn’t worry about sounding pretty… they want their songs to be authentic, true to the music they love, but with less aesthetics and more soul. The guitar solo on “Dig for Gold” hits right in the feels, a splashy, funky, and bluesy journey through the mind of a brilliant young musician that will surely find his mark in the guitar-playing community.
As time goes on, the sound and sonic fury that is Stew will undoubtedly become more pointed and polished, and that’s ok. However, one hopes they never lose the ability to play from the heart, serve the song, and still melt faces, because that’s what makes them so special. They can sound retro and nostalgic while maintaining their artistic integrity because it’s their personality that gives them their flavor, and there’s no faking that. That’s home-cooked goodness, and though it may be inspired by classic rock, it’s their own kick-ass Swedish recipe that they’re serving up. Try a spoonful and tell me I’m wrong.
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