Let us first rewind.
Track 1, side 1, album 1 made crystal clear—as well as abundantly propulsive and roaringly loud—as to where their deep-rooted allegiance was pledged. Hurtling into your ears like a concrete wall on the move, a souped-up version of Willie-Dixon-by-way-of-Muddy-Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You” immediately announced that Foghat—who was proof that not all British-born blues-rock bands were sired by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers—could fury-up the blues. Soon enough, American airwaves would also come to be owned by their “Stone Blue,” “Third Time Lucky (First Time I Was a Fool),” “Drivin’ Wheel” and, of course, the power-chord groove of grooves, “Slow Ride.” But that first Billboard-charting declaration-in-blue is what busted open the floodgates on their self-titled debut and, in turn, the whole Foghat legacy that would come rushing through. That was 1972.
Fast forward to 2023: Now 51 years later, Foghat grandly comes full circle with Sonic Mojo, their 17th studio album and first in seven years (2021’s Eight Days on the Road captured a live show). Because, sure enough, another of Big Willie’s anthems to carnal craving, “Let Me Love You Baby,” rattles the walls with newfound frenzied glory. And since misery loves company, that bellyaching isn’t left orphaned, but instead cocooned within a setlist still faithful to the blues. Which is not surprising coming from a band who, through the years, likewise rewired the works of Elmore James, Otis Rush and even Robert Johnson with heightened power, energy and, in turn, attitude. Never could “Terraplane Blues,” for instance, shake a Mississippi shack as on 1975’s Fool for the City.
These days, all the shack-shaking comes at the hands of Roger Earl—the lone original member, who still rains down blows on the drums—now in cahoots with lead vocalist/guitarist Scott Holt (Buddy Guy), lead/slide guitarist Bryan Bassett (Molly Hatchet, Wild Cherry) and bassist Rodney O’Quinn (Pat Travers Band). Textbook Foghat: No keyboards or horns to gussy up the rocking.
And rock, Sonic Mojo does—beginning with a whoosh. “She’s a Little Bit of Everything” erupts across a series of bursts that burn rubber whenever the chorus isn’t begging for shout-along participation. It’s an opening move embedded with catchy hooks and enough surging momentum to trigger the subsequent hard, inflamed stomp of “I Don’t Appreciate You,” which obviously never bites its caustic tongue despite the big rhythmic bang. And, along the way, another touchstone from Foghat’s earliest days circles back: ’72 sported a bullet-fast “Maybelline” in salute to Chuck Berry; his “Promised Land” now rockets through ’23.
The music—split evenly between six originals and six covers—keeps broadening. “Time Slips Away” and Rodney Crowell’s “Song for the Life” wade into calmer pools made for reflecting on days gone by, as harmonized voices join bottlenecked clouds swirling above. “Wish I’d Been There” extends a tip of the Stetson hat to Hank Williams, the ill-fated Robert Johnson of the honky-tonk circuit. You can’t say Foghat isn’t well rounded.
And then there are those blues. “She’s Dynamite” upgrades from what was a brittle toe-tapper for B.B. King in 1951 into a chugging bulldozer. “How Many More Years,” on the other hand, smolders as a coolly-mentholated controlled burn rather than as raw, open rage as snarled by Howlin’ Wolf that same year. The sleek guitars heard streamlining “Mean Woman Blues” gain tremendous mass and quite the nasty bite for consorting with the hellhounds prowling “Black Days & Blue Nights.” That tribute to the band’s first slide master, the late Rod Price, moves as a dark, hulking slow-drag.
But the boogie remains Foghat’s signature mode of transport. Just as blacktop and the proverbial journey continue preoccupying their songwriting, as prior trips down “Highway (Killing Me),” “Road Fever” or “8 Days on the Road” attest. “Drivin’ On” conveniently combines both. Riding in on Earl’s rim clicks and a smear of Bassett’s slide guitar, the pulse is part Slim Harpo’s “I’ve Got Love If You Want It,” part Z.Z. Top’s “La Grange,” part their own “Chateau Lafitte ’59 Boogie,” part swamp slither. Its tension builds in a slow reveal. You sense the need for release; for the switch to flip; for the deluge to come crashing in. You know it’s coming. Yet still building. And building. Then, midway through, a drum barrage engages the clutch, signaling the bottleneck to upshift, to tear loose of its tether, grab control, and, in a headlong rush, leave behind a cloud of dust.
That is all so very Foghat. But also an all-hear-this! surefire sign that the blues-educated rock & roll still rushing through those floodgates shows zero signs of letting up any time soon.
Label: Foghat Records
Release Date: 11/10/2023
Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski
Artist Website: https://foghat.com/