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Hoyt Axton: Explodes

Album Notes

Axton may have been known as something of a folksinger at the time of this release, and he may have subsequently become known as a country artist, but make no mistake: This is a rock album, albeit a pretty strange one by 1964 standards. Not so much because it's weird, but because it's an uncomfortable intersection of blues, go-go R&B-influenced rock, and hints of folk and novelty songwriting. It's not a folk-rock album, despite Axton's background; the arrangements are rather close to those used by Johnny Rivers on his mid-'60s material. Or, if you prefer, it's something of a much more pop-oriented John Hammond Jr. It's that hard to peg. And it's not that good, though unlike his prior Vee-Jay effort, Saturday's Child, it uses full electric arrangements, and Axton wrote most of the material. For much of the set he adopts a growling blues voice that's not only at odds with the peppy R&B/pop production, but also doesn't suit him too well. When he unleashes full-out-throaty growls (as he does often on this LP), he doesn't sound tough or swaggering; he just sounds like someone who really needs to clear his throat, or at least to lighten up if he doesn't want to destroy his lungs. The songs are largely routine, studly blues-pop numbers, sometimes faintly reminiscent of songs like "Hi Heel Sneakers," though there's perhaps some (very) muted anti-war protest in "Red White & Blue," and a bit of a troubadour folk gallop to the moody "Young Man." The only other cover is a ludicrously up-tempo, hoarsely screamed-sung rock version of "Heartbreak Hotel," co-written by his mother, Mae Axton. The album's not that hard to listen to, but it's not that pleasant to listen to either. And it must have been even harder to market, given its indecisive stylings. ~ Richie Unterberger



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