Little Muddy’s music is a known commodity in indie circles, the band released their debut in 1999, but it is a far cry from their origins. The band’s new release Chain Link frames Rich Goldstein’s songwriting and guitar playing as the defining element of Little Muddy’s sound, but the performances recorded for this album leave little doubt it is a band rather than a glorified solo effort.
Goldstein is the lone remaining member from the band’s birth and there’s no question Little Muddy and Chain Link are reflective of his creative passions. The album’s fourteen tracks cover a wide range of music genres, though his favored form is clearly rock and/or blues rock. He kicks things off with a prime example of that, the title song “Chain Link” serves notice that Goldstein’s playing is all killer, no filler. I especially love the guitar sound he gets on this performance.
He has an excellent musical partner with drummer Mark Abbott. Abbott tailors his percussion skills to suit Goldstein’s varying guitar attack and the production places near-equal emphasis on the authoritative rhythm section. Abbott and bassist Kevin White turn in one of their finest performances during “Groove Town” and make all things possible for Goldstein. “Satellite Spy” comes off as a succinct soundtrack for an especially suspenseful film segment. There are shades of rock and blues present in this track, but it gains much of its urgency from a combination of its slight uptempo pace and rugged sound.
The jazz tendencies I hear in the song “Slow Time” are never inaccessible; everyone from casual to hardcore music fans will latch onto Goldstein’s melodic playing. “Scircocco Escape” covers some of the same territory, albeit in a much different fashion; the guiding principle behind this for me seems to be much more of a jam band sound. The movement and texture of this is intimate, practically claustrophobic.
“Night Highway” doesn’t have the same tightly-packed instrumental attack, but it is nonetheless intense. The blues side of the band’s musical personality continues shining through during this cut and has a distinctive cinematic flair. “Spark on the Horizon” gooses the pace and tempo in comparison. Goldstein pushes the gas pedal for his six-string, as well, and the guitar workout pressing against listeners has ample melody and emotion.
“Edge of the Forest” is one of Chain Link’s most effective short pieces. The acoustic guitar flourishes are exotic without ever veering into overkill. “Lagos Layover” is one of the album’s most interesting pieces as it invokes every bit of the frantic dissociation capable of descending when you’re forced to spend hours in an alien land. Kevin White’s bass playing leaps out at you. “Route 51 South” takes listeners into the burning hot of electric blues and ends the collection on an emphatic note. It’s an outstanding release without a single dud track. Chain Link solidifies Little Muddy’s claim as being one of the pre-eminent instrumental bands today and I don’t think anyone will bemoan the lack of a vocalist for these songs.