John the Conqueror

The Good Life

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Philadelphia's John the Conqueror have managed to succumb to the dreaded sophomore slump and rise above it at the same time on their second album, The Good Life. The band is still in full command of their blues power, and what they did well on their self-titled debut they do very well here. Guitarist Pierre Moore's tough, wiry guitar figures take the traditions of blues-rock and gives them a strenuous workout without playing them for too much flash, and drummer Michael Gardner and bassist Ryan Lynn are a powerful rhythm section who get the job done with lots of force and plenty of groove. The addition of Steve Lynn on keyboards is a good move, adding welcome tonal color to the tunes without interfering with the band's core approach. But the biggest problems that dogged John the Conqueror on their debut are still seated front and center on The Good Life. This band still has a bad habit of playing most of their songs in the same middling tempo, and by the midway point the groove has turned into a deep rut. And the sad truth is Moore isn't much of a songwriter. While he can come up with a good funky groove on "Get 'Em" and "What Am I Gonna Do," most of this is built around standard-issue blues changes, and there are too many songs about boozing, getting high, and getting in trouble, and not enough with anything resembling substance (though he tries on "John Doe" and "Daddy's Little Girl"); it's no coincidence that the most striking song here is a cover of Randy Newman's "Let's Burn Down the Cornfield." The Good Life confirms that there are the makings of a great band in John the Conqueror, but they need to beef up their songwriting if they're going to make it to the next level.

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