Blackwater Conspiracy – ‘Shootin’ The Breeze’ (Bulletproof 20/20 Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Monday, 05 June 2017 04:00

BWC - Shootin artworkI was conversing with Blackwater Conspiracy singer Phil Conalane on the old private messenger thing on Facebake the other day: I’d contacted him to get clarification on this album’s release date (when it was first send to URHQ it was slotted to come out at the end of July, but that was brought forward to coincide with their Drownload appearance this coming weekend… but, I digress…). At the end of the conversation, he said that he didn’t think it would be my cuppa tea… Shows how much he knows, as I rarely – if ever – drink tea! But, he was right in one regard: having had this ten track debut on and off the stereo for the past few weeks, I still can’t really make my mind up about it. And that’s the honest truth.


Blackwater Conspiracy may be a new name to many, but as a band they have been kicking up dust for quite some time, as they emerged from the ashes of Million Dollar Reload just under two years ago: the previous incarnation of the band had undergone a line up change, which forced the guys, both established and new, to re-evaluate their situation, which ultimately ended up in them literally transmogrifying on stage – starting a gig under their former guise and ending it under their new monicker.


Now, it’s not that the band – who take their name from the river which connects the various towns in which they live - have totally changed direction: they had started to move away from the harder, rockier sound of M$R towards the more retro-blues sound of BWC in the latter half of the former’s career. The addition of keyboardist Kevin Brennan had inevitably added a different dimension to the M$R sound in the band’s dying breaths. And some of the songs on this BWC debut – such as ‘Waiting For Hollywood’, ‘Decadent Highway’ and ‘Penny For Your Dirty Mind’ – will be familiar to those who have not heard or seen the new incarnation of the band, as they were firm features of the M$R live set as the band prepared for their transformation… in fact, the last named song was also the last ever to be performed live by M$R (trivial fact #375 for y’all).


Which probably goes some way to explaining why ‘Shootin’…’ embraces you with the familiarity of your favourite blanket, right from the opening keyboard stroll of the aforementioned opener, ‘Waiting On Hollywood’, with Brennan’s clean, crisp ivory strikes immediately evoking the spirit of fellow Ulsterman Keith Weir, before the piano gives way to a swelling organ and Brian ‘BAM’ Mallon’s low-slung riff heaves into sight, making it clear, especially when combined with the squawkbox interjections, that the band are indeed heading in an altogether more Seventies-style blues/rock direction. Yes, the hard edge is still there, especially in Conalane’s rhythm work and Kie McMurray’s growling bass, which serves to emphasize my opinion that this is a band still very much in the throes of transformation.


The album draws heavily on the British rawk ‘n’ roll tradition of bands like Mott The Hoople and The Quireboys, as evinced on the identifiable checking in to ‘The Monday Club’: Phil may not have the richness of Hunter or the raspiness of Spike – he’s somewhere between the two – but he certainly knows how to wrench the ironic passion out of lines like “Monday morning, you ain’t no friend of mine…” and, hey, we all agree with that sentiment, right? (Except, of course, when it brings you a new batch of reviews from your favourite website!)



‘Penny For Your Dirty Mind’ is a solid mid-paced blues rocker of the sort you’ve heard a million (sic) times before, but shows how good a song can really be when in the hands of professionals who know their craft and can deliver an instantly memorable chorus line. And Fionn O’Hagain’s precision drumming once again underpins the band’s sound with the sort of solidity most brickies would envy. ‘Blackwater Swagger’ does just that, evoking the shimmy-shake of the Glimmer Twins yet with a dirty groove that would make a prostitute blush… but, there’s something missing: it’s niggling at the back of my mind, and I can’t quite pin it down, but there’s a little spark that’s failing to ignite my natural excitement.


‘President Joe’ changes the mood into which evokes images of the lads sitting together on a terrace overlooking the riverbank, smoking a wee joint or three and swigging on a bottle of Buckie or four, while chillin’ in the breeze sweeping down off the Sperrins. It features a beautiful series of solos from BAM and is one of those perfect Sunday afternoon chill out songs. ’85 Rock Star’ kicks into gear with a Lord-esque Hammond swell, before the promise of an out-and-out Whitesnake-style rocka rolla hayride is somewhat dissipated by the melancholic opening force, before Conalane slaps you in the face with the chorus line: “Live fast/Leave something beautiful/Burn it all/Like an 85 rock star” …mmm, I wonder who all he is referring to there! It’s a song filled with mood and tempo changes and, for me, one of the standout tracks.


 Video courtesy of NI Rocks


‘Hanging Tree’ is another standard blues romp, this time very much in the suvern style, conjuring up references to just about every good ol’ boy who comes to mind: musically, it lacks just a smidgeon of spice, but vocally Conalane nails it again. ‘Shoot The Breeze’ is another kick-back-and-relaxer, with an Allman Brothers-ish country vibe, built over a simple bluesy riff and another beautifully understated vibe from Brennan. ‘Decadent Highway’ continues the country blooze vibe, but in a much more vibrant and upbeat manner, racing along and then throttling back with the ease of one of the Dunlop boys chucking themselves around one of Norn Iron’s leafy backlane circuits, before ‘Roll The Dice’ brings matters to a conclusion (except if you’re listening to it on vinyl, in which case you lucky cats get four extra tracks) with a slice of slide, a snap of snare, a serein of organ and a whiskey-soaked vocal which sees the album turn full circle in its atmosphere and vibe.



As I said at the outset, I’ve listened to this album multiple times, and I still haven’t quite made up my mind about it… but, every time I listen to, I find new grooves to explore and new nuances within it, and it has been growing on me. It’s definitely one of those albums that would be pretty close to the top of the playlist for one of those Saturday nights herself and I have off and just want to chill with a bottle of our favourite bourbon…


‘Shootin’ The Breeze’ is released on Friday (9 June), the same day that Blackwater Conspiracy open the Zippo Encore Stage at Download. They also play a free show at HMV Belfast next Monday (12 June).


Blackwater Conspiracy also play the Rising Stage at the Ramblin’ Man Fair on Sunday 30 July. (NOTE: Fellow countrymen Screaming Eagles and Trucker Diablo play the same stage on the Saturday.)


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