CD Review
Ballad Mongers
"Door to Door"

By Tommy Hough, Staff Writer
©Copyright 2021 Hough

Bands that come on as "adult alternative" sometimes run the risk of also not being able to rock, a strange affliction that seems to strike veteran musicians like Paul McCartney and Sting, guys who clearly once had the capacity to make any cretin hop, unlike, say, David Gates and the guys from Bread. The Ballad Mongers are happy to let you know they've been playing music collectively and individually for a long while, and are as likely to list Elvis Costello as an influence as Jethro Tull and of course the always-supreme Beatles, but unlike some skilled musicians who have developed their craft over time who want to prove themselves as Marshall-worthy, the straight outta East County (well, Mt. Helix) Ballad Mongers neither rock out in embarrassing poses nor by fattening up already strong songs with unnecessary noise. In fact, the Ballad Mongers' strength is to arrange their songs right up to a line with the impressive array of musical skill at their disposal without belaboring it, and their tastefully deployed chops flesh out a lucky 13 collection of songs on Door to Door.

I have to tell you, Door to Door reminds me of a little-heard album that came out in 1989 called The Good Life by a trio from Madison, Wisconsin called Firetown. Firetown featured future superproducer Butch Vig on drums and two of the other guys that eventually became Garbage when they wised up and put a red-haired Scottish siren up front to sing their angular lyrics over Pro Tools alternapop. Now, I don't know if these veteran San Diegans have that kind of commercial future still ahead of them, but Door to Door has that same kind of well-crafted breezy rock with punchy lyrics that aren't afraid to pinch or ripple the otherwise solid musical sheen they're part of. It's, ah, a mature sound, if sometimes easily digestible...kind of "adult alternative."

The Joni Mitchell vocal lilts give a good twist to what feels like a Rush (!) influence on the tough bleeding-in-the-USA caper "Give Me the Money," and the determined, descending melody and eventual Celtic (?) chorus breakdown of "Woman's Best Friend" add an additional kink to the song. This is what happens when you've been playing for a while, you've got a reliable bag of tricks at the ready, but tight harmonies (see "Curious Yellow") and tighter songs aren't done with smoke and mirrors. Though I wouldn't call this labored over, the decades of skill pay off with the professional polish, and Randy Fuelle's Hit Single studios in El Cajon are clearly capable of giving off an organic, living vibe. This is good noise, and it'll make you move.

Check out Jeff Ousley's toned-down Jack Bruce vocalisms on "Survivor," his outside-your-window-don't-call-the-cops late-night calling of "I'm Good for You," the in-and-out mid-verse punctuations that would do Led Zeppelin proud (or more likely, Whitesnake) on "Long Is the Road," the welcome "Stanley Shuffle" change of pace, and maybe this is an obvious observation, but Stephen Ball's violin certainly reminds me of Scarlet Rivera's emotional playing during Dylan's Rolling Thunder period. Good for spring afternoons, dramatic sunsets, and coming home.

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