Blues-rock Texas style
Reviewed April 2009
By Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat
Underworld Records: 2008
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
It is a relief, especially lately, find a disc that just, flat, rocks: Nothing fancy about it, just guitar, bass and drums, and rocks hard.
Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat do it nicely on "Tijuana Bible," his latest with his own group. The formula here is Texas roadhouse-style blues, with power chords, lots of slide guitar and hot lead work that brings to mind such fellow Texans as Johnny Winter and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons (who, according to a web article, presided over Suhler’s wedding). Suhler, who wrote most of the generous 16 tunes, doesn't seem to mind that this disc isn't going to blaze new trails of originality; he is a superb guitarist and vocalist in his own right, and the object here is to rock like hell and have a good time.
The opener and title cut will draw comparisons to Gibbons and his band, but while it sounds like a cut from the Top's "Rythmeen" disc, it has an infectious groove all its own. After a slide guitar tour de force by Suhler on "Devil in Me" that sounds like Rory Gallagher being channeled comes "Drunken Hearted Boy," with Elvin Bishop aboard as guest slide guitarist on his tune, tame by comparison. "Up to My Neck in You" is an AC/DC cover that fortunately sounds like a Texas raise-hell stomper rather than the original (after a scream at the intro), and features a brilliant solo by Suhler that is as good as any of Winter's hot early leads. While "Long Hot Summer" is a near-reworking of Led Zep's "When the Levee Breaks," it rocks hard and makes one wonder how good the Zep would be if it reformed with a guitarist as good as Suhler this cat can shred (Jimmy Page can't), and the slide solos on this cut slice to the bone. "Deep Water Lullaby" is a Hendrix-flavored tune with a guest lead appearance by Joe Bonamassa, whose solo is quite good but probably nothing Suhler couldn't have played.
A 71-minute, 16-cut disc usually has many more slow spots than this one. The singalong "Po Lightnin' " is the bluesman tribute often encountered on discs like this. "Border Rock" owes much to ZZ's "Tube Snake Boogie," but still is fun. "Mexicali Run," about drug smuggling, has one foot in "La Grange" and the other in "El Diablo," but in reality shows that most Texas blues-rock outfits all drank from the same well developing their licks. "Chaos in Tejas" is a crunch-rocker that gives Suhler space to fire off some burning solo lines, and is the highlight cut on the disc. "Juice" goes for a more acoustic feel, and it works while the tune still manages a brisk, stomping rhythm. Fifteen cuts in, a treat: Gallagher's "I Could Have Had Religion." Gallagher was one of his generation's pre-eminent electric slide guitarists and Suhler's work on this tune echoes the Irish master, with a taste of Winter's Texas drawl and swagger.
"Tijuana Bible" is music with an attitude, an edge, done by a hard-rocking band. Suhler is one of those guitarists who is found in magazine polls, and it is not an accident. This disc shows him in an ideal environment to display his chops doing what comes natural: rocking.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.