SoundTrack web extra: Elijah Hooker

Elijah Hooker is the name of the band, not the band’s namesake. And not its front man, though should the local rock quintet make a name for itself beyond Western N.C., it’s likely that vocalist Caleb Johnson will be alternately known as Elijah Hooker (like how Darius Rucker, despite his turn to country, is still referred to as “Hootie”).

Elijah Hooker has just completed 10-song, self-titled debut. And it’s a memorable first impression: The brightness and swift acceleration are felt succinctly on the lead track, “Happiest Man.” It’s a rocket launch of keys and guitars swirling tornado-like above muscular drums and bass. And Johnson’s voice soars through the melee, in complete control but also pushing at the boundaries of control. Because this is a band that can do both — loose the chaos and reign it in, gun the engine and big the curves, release the kraken and dominate the battle.

“Slaves to Freedom” borrows from ‘80s metal (especially Josh Sawyer’s particularly searing guitar solo at the 1.45 minute mark). There’s a political bent to the lyrics:  “Give your freedom to feel safe at night. Give up liberty without a fight,” sings Johnson. His vocal is a warm rasp in his lower register, but he maintains power into the far edge of his wail.

“Black Mountain Fog” recalls vintage Southern rock — Allman Brothers’ “Sweet Melissa” or Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” There’s that kind of intensity paired with layered instrumentation and a slow-but-insistent beat. Brian Turner’s keys parts are pitch-perfect ‘70s, as is the cool keening of Sawyer’s guitar work. But the thing about Southern rock of this vintage is that while it’s always of-an-era, it never sounds retro. The tried-and-trueness of the sound feels at home in 2013. And when the band breaks into a riotous boogie-woogie in the final minute, the song explodes into a new level. It’s easy to imagine Johnson dancing around his mic stand and Turner kicking away the piano bench a la Jerry Lee Lewis.

“On My Way” also takes its cues from ‘70s rock, Southern rock and hair metal, too. Here, the keyboard shines through the clamor of guitars and drums. The song is also a great example of how sturdy a rhythm section Frank Skulski (drums) and Wade Wilson (bass) make. Together they provide an unshakable foundation that often melts into the fabric of the song, allowing for guitar, keyboard and vocal explorations. But there are also moments (more than a few) when Skulski and Wilson’s particular talents make their way to the forefront.

There’s a lot of nimble-fingered guitar, thundering vocals and bristling electricity — “Midnight Sun” and “Road to Nowhere” are examples. “Eye of the Witch” is more metal, grinding and clanking through its paces. It’s less about melody and more about the full-on power of its aggressive delivery. And final track “Dogma” falls somewhere in between. It’s dark and heavy, but there’s also a dramatic (almost cinematic) build of melody under the guitar-and-drum pummel.

Returning from the abyss, Johnson sings, “Shine a light and we’ll burn tonight ‘cause we all die alone,” on “Shine On,” a song that showcases both his vocal range and an apt rock ‘n’ roll credo.

Elijah Hooker will play two album release shows: The first is at Emerald Lounge Friday, June 7 (9 p.m. with Brother Nomad and Space Truckers. $5.) and the second is at The Lab on Saturday, June 8 (9:30 p.m. with Gutterhound and Twist of Fate. $5.).


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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One thought on “SoundTrack web extra: Elijah Hooker

  1. Jason Roberts

    Awesome review. I’ve heard these guys and I won’t be missing the shows. Def awesome hearing a local band sound so great! Hats Off!

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