1. Mississippi Delta Blues
2. Warm Beer Catfish Stew
3. The Devil’s Road
4. Fortunate Son
5. The Last Song
6. Mama’s Kitchen Brew
7. Southern Blood
8. Turn Me Around
9. Fade Away
10. The American Train
Twenty years after being recorded, Moonshine’s debut LP has finally seen the light of day. It had been tucked away in singer Derek Davis’ vault all these years. Derek recently dusted off the masters, had them re-mastered from two inch analog tape to digital format and set about releasing this long-overdue gem. Fans of guitar driven blues-based rock will dig this release.
You are probably asking yourselves, “Who is Moonshine & why haven’t I heard of them before?” You have, later on they were rechristened Laidlaw …but more on that later. Moonshine was formed in Los Angeles back in 1991 by guitarists Buzzy James and Craig DeFalco. Bassist Michael Norton, brother of former KISS guitarist Mark St. John, and drummer Brian Fox of White Tiger soon joined Buzzy and Craig. After trying out multiple singers, Derek Davis, who was fronting Babylon A.D. at the time, caught the attention of the band while the two were neighbors at a rehearsal studio in L.A. The band invited Derek to jam a few Montrose and Aerosmith tunes & their chemistry was undeniable, Moonshine had found their singer. Mike Malone (of Marc Ford and The Neptune Blues Club & Mike Malone And The Soul Collectors) soon joined the band on Piano and Harmonica.
Moonshine would soon enter Eddie Van Halen’s 5150 Studios with former VH bassist Michael Anthony and Producer Mike Scott. The resulting ten song debut LP would be shelved for the next twenty years due to various lineup changes that occurred after the recording sessions. Derek, Brian and Mike would depart the band and were eventually replaced by Tommy Roberts on vocals and Darrell ‘DWaRf’ Millar of The KiLLeR DWaRfS on drums. The band was rechristened Laidlaw. They would become the first band signed to Nikki Sixx’s Americoma Records. Nikki would produce their 1999 major label debut “First Big Picnic” which is now out-of-print and fetching a pretty penny on eBay! Laidlaw would go on to release two more albums and endure more lineup changes The band would tour with the likes of Mötley Crüe, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Van Halen, Paul Rodgers, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and others before disbanding in 2009.
I first became aware of the band through an article that appeared in the November 1994 issue of Metal Edge Magazine. I ordered the tape and was hooked! I followed the band through their many incarnations so to finally have their debut album released is a wonderful journey back through time for me!!
So, let’s all jump in the wayback machine, set the dial to 1994 and take a tour through Moonshine’s 20 year old debut album. It is an album that still sounds as fresh and vital as anything being produced these days. I have hopes that one day the band will issue this album on vinyl!!! A boy can dream right?
The album kicks off with a full-throttle rocker entitled “Mississippi Delta Blues”. The slide guitar on this track is insane to say the least with Buzzy James giving Slide Wizards like Sonny Landreth & Derek Trucks a run for their money while Slide Greats Duane Allman & Elmore James look down in approval! The band pulls no punches on this barnstormer. “Warm Beer Catfish Stew” is without a doubt my favorite song on this album but I must confess, it is my favorite Moonshine/Laidlaw song PERIOD! I have, at least, five different versions of this song by various lineups of the band and none of them disappoint. Slowing things down just a bit is “The Devil’s Road”, the track gives Derek a chance to show his range, inject some Black Crowes-esque soul into the track while Buzzy and Mike accent the song perfectly on Dobro and Piano respectively. Had this album been released back in the day, I could see this song doing well at radio.
Up next is a cover of one of America’s greatest bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival. It is a ballsy move to cover such an iconic song by such an iconic songwriter, John Fogerty, but the band does “Fortunate Son” justice. Michael Norton and Brian Fox lay down a solid groove for Buzzy & Craig to add their magic while Derek delivers one of his best vocal performances of the album. Ironically placed in the middle of the running order is “The Last Song”. I guess the band didn’t want to end the album with a mid-tempo tune or go with the obvious. Good call as the song is a nice halfway point. It kicks off with a beautiful slide intro that longtime Moonshine/Laidlaw fans will no doubt recognize from a tune off their album “First Big Picnic”, can you name that tune? The band shines on this cut between a rock solid foundation of Michael’s bass and Brian’s drums, Craig’s rhythm guitars, Buzzy’s tasteful slide runs and Mike’s ivory playing, Derek once again shows of his soulful range till channeling his inner-Steven Tyler during the last minute or so. The mix really showcases all the individual parts but weaves them into a cohesive sonic tapestry.
“Mama’s Kitchen Brew” is easily my second favorite track. A full on rocker with a good bit of boogie thrown in. This song will take you back to when bands rocked, the solos scorched, gang-vocals were cool and nobody gave no f*cks about what was trendy! Some nasty (in a great way) Delta inspired Dobro, whiskey soaked Harmonica and Confederate Marching Band drums kick off “Southern Blood”, if you close your eyes, you can envision just what Derek is singing about. Anytime you can do that, it is the sign of some mighty fine songwriting! Well done gentleman, well done! If anyone is wanting to check out one of the world’s most underrated Slide players, check out Buzzy James as he opens “Turn Me Around” with a heavy run across the fretboard before the band kicks in with the “heaviest” performance on the album. By heavy, I don’t mean Pantera or Metallica heavy, this is more of a result of tunings and tempo, this is 20W-50 motor oil heavy! I’m pretty damn sure I can hear Michael Anthony’s background vocals.
Mike Malone’s piano really takes “Fade Away” to the epic ballad level as Michael & Brian stay back in the pocket adding a touch of groove to punctuate Derek’s soul-singing. Buzzy & Craig blend their opposite styles of guitar playing to add some thickness to the mix. Craig’s prowess on rhythm guitar should not go unnoticed as it brings a great ying-yang balance to the bands twin guitar assault. He has teached for some of the best players in rock and obviously picked up some tricks along the way that he has incorporated in to not only his playing but his production repertoire. “The American Train” ends the album like it began. Like a full-throttle whiskey-fueled locomotive going off the rails the band cuts loose on this rocker and leaves the listener wanting more. Ahhhh, back to a boy dreaming again, who knows, maybe interest in this album while inspire the guys to get together for a reunion show? One can only dream…..
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