Just in time for summer, Chicago-based The Black Oil Brothers’ folk and blues 11-track album gives listeners a laid-back auditory environment to relax in with a cold drink on a hot and humid summer night. Tim Ryan, Tony Manno, Tony Maietta, and Johnny Action’s Mean Business, set to be released on 8 July 2016, has certain general features that appear throughout.
One of the most striking ones is the heavy use of banjos. There are also slide guitars, harmonicas, and mandolins in almost every tune. All of them are built on about three or four layers featuring vocals and instrumentation, with the vocals slightly on the nasal side and always seeming to drag a little—like a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The blues often centre on difficulties encountered by good people living an otherwise good life; most of the tracks on Mean Business do the same. But there is a certain join de vivre that influences the entire collection which gives listeners a positive outlook on whatever situation is being addressed. And just like the above-mentioned lazy Sunday afternoon, even at its most enthusiastic, the tempo never goes beyond a middle range level, even on a song titled “Trouble Rides a Fast Horse”.
Interestingly enough, the band chose to close the album with two tunes that break a number of these rules. “Rhea” features the highest tempo on the LP; it is upbeat and will make every listeners’ feet tap to the rhythm. It might even make a couple get up and dance. The harmonisations also come as a pleasant surprise. The electric guitar that kicks off “Gratitude Boogie” and its melody give it a strong rock edge, a genre that hadn’t been present anywhere before this point, only peeking ever so slightly through in “Git Gone”.
There is something a little sharper in all aspects of “Black Tie Crowd”, almost as if each layer of vocals and instruments were cleaned up because of the black tie crowd. The only thing that isn’t more polished than usual are the vocals, which remain nasally in nature. As “The Mysterious Disappearance of Rufus Green” tells a story, the band chose to turn to a “spoken word”-like technique, another interesting turn the band chose to take.
Of all the slow tempo and laid-back songs—such as “Curse O’ My Mind”—“Talk to Me” is the standout here. I can imagine quite a few falling asleep to it while resting in a hammock hanging between two giant trees in a typical Southern backyard. Another fun image that comes to mind is that of a couple of friends on a front porch somewhere playing and singing “Cross Yr Fingers Blues” together.
While the overall feel of the songs on Mean Business seems quite homogeneous, there are enough details varying here and there that make it an ear-grabbing listen. Music is available for streaming on Bandcamp. More information about the band is available on their official website and on their Facebook page.