Big Head Todd & the Monsters

Black Beehive

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Big Head Todd & the Monsters spent much of the early years of the new millennium emphasizing their blues roots, going so far as to spearhead a centennial celebration of Robert Johnson in 2011, so the expansive nature of 2014's Black Beehive comes as something of a welcome surprise. BHTM haven't left the blues behind, of course -- there are funky slide guitar workouts like "Seven State Lines," along with a salute to the great Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin -- but they've internalized the blues, letting it infuse songs that otherwise read as pop or lending a bit of grit to performances that otherwise favor comfort. This dexterity (demonstrated, as it should, through throwaway grooves and succinct solos), when combined with a production that boasts considerable color even during the record's quietest moments, gives Black Beehive a surprising resonance; unlike some BHTM records, this feels lived-in, which in itself is a reflection of how the band's sojourn into the blues has paid off dividends. They've returned to some of the easy, breezy melodic songwriting that gave them AAA hits in the '90s, but that tunefulness is given a backbone by the band's willingness to delve into the blues, and the production -- alternating between spare sweetness and sharply detailed, sculpted six-strings -- gives the album dimension (and Todd's decision to occasionally co-opt Dylan's phrasing, unmistakable on "Josephina" and "Travelin' Light," adds another dimension to this roots rock fantasia). Big Head Todd & the Monsters will never be a gutbucket, down-and-dirty blues-rock outfit, but Black Beehive proves that's fine: they have found their own friendly spin on the blues and have become a better band for it.

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