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Artist: Bigtone
Label: TrueTunes (2001)
Length: 12 Tracks (43:55 minutes)

The End

Assembling roughly two years ago, the four piece rock outfit Bigtone hails from Pikeville, Kentucky, a small Appalachian Mountains mining town near the Virginia and West Virginia borders.  After touring the Eastern United States, the group amassed a sizable fan base and released a demo recording that sold over 1,000 units.  After the demo's respectable showing and Bigtone's garnering opening concert slots for major Christian artists such as Audio Adrenaline, the group signed with True Tunes Records for their debut release.True to their roots, the members of Bigtone are more than capable of cranking out heartfelt, high-intensity Southern rock music in all of its many forms.  "Rich Man" is a solidly-built union of the blues-heavy loose jam of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers and the soaring modern pop/rock of the Gin Blossoms, with heaping doses of soulful B-3 organ thrown in for good measure.  "The End" runs driving roots rock, with its bluesy vocal flourishes and requisite mid-song extended lead guitar break, through a tight netting of pure pop sensibility to equally fine effect.  And "Cool" is adeptly constructed on a musical scaffolding of Stevie Ray Vaughn's electric Texas blues and ZZ Top's stripped-down, pre-Eliminator era bar band boogie.

But while the album is replete with both the musical energy and aplomb of Bigtone's inspirations, the band tends to wear its influences on its shoulder a bit too obviously and often winds up mimicking its heroes rather than complementing them.  In much the same way, the group's lyrical ideas are mostly hampered by the same lack of distinctiveness.  To be fair, the lyrics used by most Southern rock bands run little risk of being mistaken for classic prose, and songs like "What Went Wrong" and  "If You Want" (My life ain't a mystery/ It's just plain to see/ I lay it out on the table/ For the whole world to see) sport the same unassuming, straightforward stance as the bulk of Bigtone's influences.  Nonetheless, they lack the catchy, instantly memorable lyrical phrasing of, say, Skynyrd or the unswervingly clever, often tongue-in-cheek wit and word play exhibited by ZZ Top.  Adding to Bigtone's lyrical woes, the album's vocals are, as often as not, mixed and delivered in such a way that they are rendered all but indecipherable, an effect that undoubtedly works in direct opposition to the band's ostensibly evangelistic slant.

Oddly enough, when the band steps away from its intrinsic classic Southern rock inclinations, it often ends up making its most striking statements. The ringing, arpeggiated guitarwork of the captivating, proto-worship tune "Know You More" harks back to the best early works of folk-poppers like REM and the dB's, while the infectious guitar hooks and downhearted lyrics of "Promise Land" mirror the very best aspects of both British Invasion pop and the melancholy hard rock of latter-day revivalists like the Smithereens. Ironically, the hidden track, "Take My Hand," leaves perhaps the most indelible impression upon the listener by virtue of its potent combination of swirling, psychedelia-tinged guitar loops and prominent power pop-like hookline.  But even these detours into less obvious territory aren't enough to surmount the album's pervading sense of overfamiliarity.  To be sure, Bigtone approaches their music enthusiastically and energetically and most of the tracks on the album, particularly those just mentioned, are both solidly constructed and well-performed.  But subsequent releases would undoubtedly benefit from a more consistently innovative array of songs.

Bert Gangl,  3/24/2001

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