Review by Peter Coates – www.facebook.com/InsideEdgePhotography
THIRD EYE OPEN
Released – 28th April 2023
Mike Ross may be familiar to some as one of the three guitarist components of powerhouse UK Blues band RHR (Redfern, Hutchinson, Ross) alongside slide guitar hero Troy Redfern, and heavy blues rocker Jack J Hutchinson (both of whom have been covered in LMM).
I have had this album on regular play since I got an early copy, and have struggled to put pen to paper with a review until now. Third Eye Open is not a typical blues album – it is deeply angry, grungy and heavy, and the lyrics cover a number of social topics that Mike feels very strongly about. Most of all, it rocks!
After a number of releases over the COVID period, this album is the first record of original Mike Ross music since The Clovis Limit Pt 2 in 2020, and while it includes some old riffs and licks resurrected from his archive, including the lead track I Swear, which is discordant, intense, and opens up with some heavy powerchords and searing guitar breaks before the main riff kicks in. Mike says he had “AC/DC plays Black Sabbath riffs” in mind for the feel of the record, and this certainly fits this one. The bass from Derek Randall is crushingly heavy, and Darren Lee provides an immense and solid drum pattern that just powers the track from start to finish.
More in the same vein with Cool Water, with a chopping guitar riff over another thunderous backing, and a pre-chorus that is out of line with the hugely melodic chorus. Mike’s voice is not pretty, but he really shows of the strength and range in this one, and adds some nice touches on the organ to add some warmth to the track.
Title track Third Eye Open, all 8.18m of uncompromising lyrics over the heaviest of riffage, with the vocals delivered with real vitriol tackling some pretty decisive subjects such as sexual freedom, moral signalling and a suggestion that ‘not behaving like an asshole when you knew better’ could be the path to enlightenment! After the first rounds of verse and chords, the track morphs into a Pink Floyd-like middle-eight segment, with soaring trippy guitar lines over a 60’s bass line, and some spoken-word chatter throughout. Then we are back with the heavy riff and some distorted guitar soloing before an even more angst-ridden verse, and a final chorus with the lead guitar shredding over the top of it. Phew!
A brief pause for breath with Born To Me, which sees Jack J Hutchinson adding some vocals, and which rolls through a couple of mellow verses, always threatening to explode, but keeping a level of restraint with some cracking slide guitar providing a neat counterpoint to the monotone of the chorus melody. Just as you think the track is over, a feedback buzz leads into a frenetic return to the main riff, heavier and fizzier, and with some intense slide guitar thrashing that must be amazing to see live (I am really looking forward to June 11th in North London).
Mike played in a band called Taller Than, and Fallen Down was one of their tracks, so it stands out slightly here as being a bit ‘off-message’, however the guitar playing remains incandescent through the light and shade of the different dynamics of the various segments of the track. There is a real old-school Delta blues grit to Face By The Window, all slide guitar, distorted voice, and a snare-driven backbeat, with the slide guitar solo over the broken-chord plucking of the main riff.
We stray into Black Crowes / Blackberry Smoke territory with The Preacher, with a hard-driving guitar riff over the off beat bass and drums. Powerplay magazine described Mike’s work as “like Led Zep fronted by Charlie Starr” and this track epitomises those words. A scintillating old-school guitar solo. The track also has a similar feel to band-mate Jack J Hutchinson’s material, and I love the way the last couple of choruses are delivered with a whole host of extra harmonies (including JJH) and crowd-shouted vocals, while Mike lets rip on the guitar.
There is a southern rock feel too to Ugly Brain, which rumbles along driven by a solid cowbell that provides the straight-up beat, while the band plays around with circular riffs and patterns. The pre-chorus has a huge hook, and again the chorus melody is a little off-key, but complements the basic sound of the track perfectly. Eulogy is a return to the steamhammer riffing that by now we are sensing Mike Ross is so comfortable with, with a tension in the lead vocals, and some spaced out guitars, and an almost white-noise bridge of swirling guitars and voice. This almost has a Talking Heads vibe to the structure and tone, but there is no doubt that it fits with the Mike Ross sound.
The odd-ball of the record – in that it is perhaps the most straight-up song, is (Be With You) Tonight, a duet with well-known London blues-rock singer Jess Hayes. This adds some country to the southern rock feel, with clean and melodic vocals. Mike delivers a powerful solo, and gets the chance to show off some subtlety in the longer solo section. The third of the tracks that were part of a crowdfunder project in 2022 is Never No More, and this sees angry Mike bemoaning the lack of depth of so much modern music, and lambasting the faceless elite who control and manipulate public opinion to serve their own ends. This is a fine slab of grungy southern rock, with a clean lead-break over sparse bass and drums (Brian Irwin on the kit for this one), before Mike ramps up the anger in both lyrics and delivery before the final chorus and a howl of feedback to close.
The record comes in at 72 minutes so you are getting value for money here, and it closed with the epic Kicks Like A Mule, which sees Mike produce something a bit more mainstream in terms of melody and structure, a driving 1980’s rocker, featuring twin-guitar harmonies, some superb accents in the pre-chorus, an extended solo that sees Mike really shine, and which then slides into a lengthy outro of chorus and guitar breaks that will no doubt be a feature of the live shows.
There is a darkness and an edge to much of the stuff on this record, and the lyrics are angry and harsh a times, but there is so much to like in Mike Ross’ work, honest, gritty and earthy, like all great “blues” artists. This record will appeal to a whole range of listeners, from classic blues guitar fans, to grungier heavy rock and southern rock aficionados. Most of all, if you enjoy loud heavy guitar-driven music then sit back, turn up the volume, and enjoy the power and passion of Third Eye Open.
UK Dates – 2023
May 13: Stockton Blues Festival (solo show)
May16: Broadstairs The Wrotham
May 20: St Austell Band Club (solo show)
May 24: Brighton The Greys
May 25: Bournemouth Poole Hill Brewery
May 26: Gillingham (Kent) Riverside Music Club
June 11: London Princess Alexandra, Crouch End (solo show)
June 23: Hastings, Black Box (solo show)
June 24: Sheffield Honey Bee Blues Club
June 25: Leicester HRH AOR Blues Crows
Full details and tickets available from www.mikerossmusic.co.uk
Pic – Halek Gurer