The Slamming Doors: St. John’s Dance
by Paul Whyte
It’s been around three years since the Duluth based band, The Slamming Doors, released their debut album “Road Beneath the Wheel,” and they are still at it with their unique sound that highlights proficient musicianship more than any particular genre. They stick to this formula with the new to be released “St. John’s Dance” where they once again manage to bring experimental aspects to what one would expect from more traditional sounds of country, folk, rock, and blues.
The band consists of Matt Johnson on drums, Ben Anderson on bass, Kelly Blau holding down the lead guitar, Mike Randolph on pedal steel guitar, Craig Skalko on the keys, and Adam Herman on several instruments and vocals.
With things like the pedal steel, it’s easy to get the feel of where this music is country. It does delve into country and folk, but really to a certain extent. These days it seems like when I mention country, it often refers to bluegrass or Americana. It’s fair to say that their sound is a bit more progressive with a modern flair. On the other hand, while the songs are fun and catchy, they don’t sink to just being some cookie cutter pop songs with a country edge. It’s really the little things that bend whatever preconceived rules of what a genre should be to make for some interesting twists and turns from song to song.
Towards the beginning of the album is the track “River Rose Up.” Yeah, it’s a country song of sorts. There’s the twang of what sounds like a mandolin, and the chorus definitely has that feel that this could be played on the mainstream country station. Then after the halfway mark something happens that isn’t really typical for how one might think this song would break down. Maybe this would be a time where a guest fiddle player would come in with a lead, but they go with this “saw” keyboard lead that seems like it might fit in more with some 80s dance music more than a country song. The result is a jam band feel with some quirkiness. The band essentially throws in little surprises throughout their music.
With songs like “Be Cool, Little Girl” the sound takes more of a laid back funk and blues song. What I find interesting is the filter effect on the vocals giving them a distinct midrange tone. The song is pretty basic, but you can tell everyone seems to be having fun on their instruments, especially the lead guitar.
Lyrically the album moves around from fun and carefree to some more contemplative songs like “Move So Slow.” “Don’t roll your eyes down the surface of my pride/Don’t hide in the back page of your mind/Soon we’ll all be dead and gone, soon as bones and dust as one you know,” sings Herman.
This stands in contrast to more rowdy barroom songs like “Brown Bottles.” “I met a pretty girl, we shared a cigarette, I’m not a smoker but wasn’t going to tell her that. When it gets dark out, we strap guitars on. The bass guitar gets slow, we play some country songs…” No matter what the lyrics involve, Herman’s delivery is sincere and driving.
The album takes another turn with “Wildlove,” which leans towards a rock ballad. As far as the lead guitar goes, it really shines in this song and the jam band aspects really come out towards the end. I’d love to know specifically what the delay effect Blau uses because it’s gorgeous.
Aside from some modern effects, a lot of the songwriting carries a sense of timelessness. Or maybe I should say it could have flown in the 70s as much as it does today. It’s really the level of musicianship and inventiveness that makes these songs rise up above being just a country song or a rock song. While I think the listener who leans towards those certain styles might find it easily accessible, there is certainly enough going to make it interesting for most who can handle listening to more than just one style of music. With this tight knit melding of instruments, Herman’s vocals fit over everything just right, and the whole package works out well.
The Slamming Doors will be celebrating the release of this album at Pizza Luce on Saturday, March 4 with Minneapolis bands Marah in the Mainsail, and Good Morning Bedlam. The show will be 21+ and starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5 in advance or $8 at the door.