January 5, 2023

Aberdeen blues rocker Gerry Jablonski and his band are back with their fifth full studio album, the enigmatically-named 105. One could say it’s been a long time coming, as the single Goddamn was released in September 2021, and the album eventually surfaced at the end of November 2022. And although the earlier releases were on the Fat Hippy label, this one is specifically self-released – there’s a story there I guess, but we’re sadly not privy to the details, or to the significance of the album title. Furthermore, the opening track Breaking The Stones is a rocked up cover of a song from their 2009 debut set, but again, the background to the re-recording is not forthcoming. So, dear reader, I guess the only thing is to cue up the CD and take it at face value, which is never a bad policy in any case.

Although Peter Narojczyk’s overdriven harp stylings give the band a bluesy vibe, their base sound is much more hard rock than blues, and there isn’t a 12-bar to be heard. It’s heavy power rock of the kind that any pub band aficionado from the ‘80s would recognise while grinning nostalgically. Front man Jablonski himself is not a guitar shredder as such, although he has picked up a lot of techniques from the smorgasbord of modern lead guitar stylings, giving his playing a distinctive sheen all his own. And by the way, if you are wondering where these exotic-sounding surnames fit into Scottish stereotypes, it may be comforting to learn that the band is completed by bassist Grigor Leslie and Lewis Fraser on drums.

The Electric Band, left to right: Peter Narojczyk, Lewis Fraser, Gerry Jablonski, Grigor Leslie (photo by Rob Blackham)

Breaking The Stones is an excellent opener, and is followed by the slightly more downbeat minor key rock of Strange Love, reminiscent of slower numbers such as AC/DC’s Let Me Put My Love Into You. The third track, Hard Road, is a real album highlight – it starts in tasteful ballad mode on acoustic and electric guitars, and even when the band comes in just before two minutes, it remains tastefully restrained, only being let off the leash when the band says so. A harp solo is followed by a distinctly Hendrixy guitar turn, as the number rises and falls with sensitive precision – the centrepiece of the album in my view.

This is followed by the mid-tempo, rolling Koss, an outspoken tribute to Free’s late guitar wizard Paul Kossoff, with the date of his demise, March 19th 1976, given prominence in the lyric. A sweet harp solo adorns Tiny Thoughts, a lament about the apparent triviality of most people’s priorities, and there’s also a harp and guitar answerback section, which makes a nice change, the number concluding on a complex, elongated jazz/prog crash ending. The band takes some pride in its endings I think; they avoid fade-outs at all costs, but of course they don’t want every number to finish with a climactic crash, so the outros are given as much time and effort as the actual numbers, if not more.

The aforementioned Goddamn is very much a New Wave Of Heavy Metal rocker, from the opening chords to the driving riff in the style of UFO’s Rock Bottom; there is also a flavour of AC/DC in the way the band breaks to allow for the vocal lines, which are sung over a plain drum backing.

Breaking The Code is a slow, bluesy ballad, which may include the most tastefully slick bit of guitar work on the whole set, with another carefully constructed ending reminiscent of early Rush. But the second major highlight for this reviewer is the down-home swamp blues of Heavy Water, which alternates between howling harp with a heavy, sparse kick drum, and the whole band coming in hard and heavy. Fraser does a neat rhythm comprising bass drum rolls towards the end, which is pretty cool, before the set ends on Dark Island, a three-minute solo guitar number that recalls Hendrix’ Star Spangled Banner. There is more than a touch of David Gilmour to it, even a hint of Gaelic phrasing, with the bass and drums coming in very briefly just before the end.

It’s a comfort to me that there are local bands like Gerry J’s crew willing to stick their neck out and self-finance full albums like this; at 40 minutes and just nine songs, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and it’s all good rocking stuff. An extensive European tour filled most of 2022; their website lists a current schedule of just two stops, one in London on 24th Jan and the other in Edinburgh on 22nd Feb. Definitely worth a look.