Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Conny Ochs: Black Happy (2013)

German Americana

I don’t really know much about Conny Ochs. He’s collaborated with Wino. Apparently he’s German, though you’d never know it from his vocals. That’s just about the only information out there about this man and his guitar.

His kinship with Wino stems from a mutual appreciation for dark singer-songwriter material, and that’s what you’ll hear on his sophomore solo record Black Happy. It falls into the amorphous “dark Americana” that I’m always talking about, but within that category it cuts a wide swath. At times, I was tempted to say it sounds like one of the Alice in Chains EPs. At others, I wanted to reference the Beatles, what little I know of indie rock, or (once) that Stone Sour song from the first Spiderman movie (see “No Sleep Tonight”). There really isn’t a good, honest way to sum it up by comparison to others, because he seems to draw on a timeless set of singer-songwriter influence from each of the past six or seven decades. Even longer, if you count the blues of “Mouth” or traditional folk vocal of “Faces in the Crowd.”

Not only is it timeless, but it is extremely well-executed. Whatever decade any individual song belongs to, the songwriting is very good. There are honest-to-God hooks, with Ochs unafraid to do lyric-less vocal melodies or sing-along choruses. There are toe-tapping, head-bobbing rhythms. And there are a variety of different moods, most of them dark but each of them painted with different shades of that darkness. His vocals are skillful enough to pull that off regardless of instrumentation, but the instrumentation is also praiseworthy. His rhythm-playing ability is such that I had to go back to verify that there is almost no percussion at all on the record, yet I didn’t miss it once. He has a preference for the slightly-distorted guitar, and as someone who loves Jar of Flies, I love that. He also uses harmonica just enough to give it variety, but not to overpower the core of the music.

So, when the mood strikes that you don’t really feel like headbanging, or bathing yourself in evil black metal, or drowning under metric tons of reverb, try this one out. It’s just as dark, and twice as real.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

  1. My immediate thought was to wonder if that's a stage name inspired by Phil Ochs.

    I like the sound.