King Hobo – Mauga

Upon the release of its eponymous debut album in 2009, there was a serious buzz around US /Swedish supertrio King Hobo. This was largely caused by the involvement of Clutch drummer John-Paul Gaster, but that criminally ignored the input of Per Wiberg and Thomas “Juneor” Andersson from Blues-Stoner purveyors Kamchatka. Ten years later the band finally returns with sophomore long-player Mauga (Weathermaker Music) and whatever opinion the listener holds for the results, it will surely redress the balance for all three members.

Opener ‘Hobo Ride’ possesses the key ingredients of both outfits: a Psych / Blues flavour derived from the late 60s, coupled with an energised, careering riff. Wiberg’s bassline hums through the cans as Andersson’s lead guitar wails across the centerpiece, yet there remains a laid-back atmosphere despite the bulldozing power. ‘Dragon’s Tail’ reflects the skilled balance of Gaster’s command while a riff as dirty as the frying pan at the local greasy spoon caff burns the loins. Andersson’s singalong chorus tops a slow-burning groove machine not a million miles away from Bad Company country.

It soon becomes apparent, however, that the retro feel is occasionally coupled with a lack of spark or identity. ‘King Blues’ is picked straight from the Gary Moore canon, but the inclusion of a horn section adds life to some clunky lyrics while heightening the melancholy feel. Similarly, a rocking rhythm guitar injects an element of fire into the oft-flaccid ‘Good Stuff’, dogged by an uninspiring structure. The title track, however, is delicious: the swoosh of sea waves ceding to a beautiful lead display reminiscent of José Feliciano, while the rhythm line is pure ‘Riders On The Storm’.

Andersson and Wiberg are the true highlights of the gorgeous, Lennon-esque ‘How Come We’re Blind’, the latter’s bewitching piano and organ accompanying the former’s leadplay and warm harmonies, while Gaster ramps up the passion of the electric and incredibly stirring second half. ‘Listen Here’ returns to the more prosaic but nevertheless driven Blues of previous tracks, missing a certain potency in its early stages; while ‘Move To The City’ possesses a Heavy Rock undercurrent and a lazy groove, but still lacks serious punch.

An album of mixed quality nears its end with another pensive, Jazz-flavoured belter in ‘Twilight Harvest’, its chorus setting fire to the brooding verses, while the gentle denouement maintains a portentous vibe. Digital versions add the bonus track ‘New Or-sa-leans’, a delightful Southern Rock-soaked jam with authentic sounds of the bayou, closing an album which promises much and, when it does deliver, sends tingles down the spine.

6 / 10

PAUL QUINN