The band’s new album, called “Stones To Sand,” documents the continuing songwriting emergence/growth of an outfit that at first glance would seem to belong in the Grateful Dead, Phish, jam-band mold, but on closer inspection reveals itself to be a group of seasoned pros smack dab in the middle of plotting their own course, defining their own sound, while still true to their original purpose, joyously reminding fans to dance, dance, dance.
“Stones to Sand” is an impressively eclectic work, covering a ton of musical ground, held together by a unique style audiences in these parts have come to love.
The album contains ear candy galore. From the infectious opening three-chord pop/rock of “The Truth Is What You Know,” to the gospel and R&B tinged “Heal My Soul,” (complete with a backing choir composed of Eleanore MacDonald, Kimberly Bass, Criesta Jerray, Heather Dolan and Leslie McCartney) from the rockabilly guitar of “Everybody Gets The Blues Sometime,” to the beautiful acoustic balladry of “Hallelujah One More Time,” the band ambitiously covers a wide swath of sonic terrain on its new 14-song disc.
Achilles Wheel is Jonny Mojo on blistering lead guitar and harmonica, Paul Kamm adding rhythm guitar, Shelby Snow stroking the bass and beat brothers Gary Campus and Mark McCartney playing drums and all things rhythmic.
All five members sing, with Kamm and Mojo performing the majority of lead vocals.
The new album’s broad musical and thematic range rests firmly on the capable shoulders of Kamm and Mojo.
“In the years leading to this record, Jonny and I have shown ourselves to be the principle songwriters in the band, but our backgrounds are radically different,” Kamm said. “He’s much more into blues and bluegrass, while I come from more of the singer/songwriter, world music thing.”
In the beginning, Achilles Wheel was a loose affiliation of already working musicians, enjoying each other’s company, gigging in bars, playing cover tunes —a pleasant side project for all concerned.
But as the band progressed, first Kamm, and later Mojo began introducing original work into the group’s repertoire, raising the stakes and causing band members to set their sights on more important venues and the making of records.
Achilles Wheel has played the Kate Wolf and Strawberry Music Festivals and the legendary Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley.
Tonight’s Crazy Horse performance will highlight songs from “Stones to Sand” while also drawing on more than five years of band togetherness.
Achilles Wheel’s previous album, “Thirteen Hours,” was recorded in the Nevada Theatre in an effort to capture the band’s live sound and prowess on stage. “Stones to Sand” is a departure, a polished studio project, recorded at Tom Menig’s studio in Chicago Park, as well as the home studios of Snow and Kamm, and mastered by Grammy-Award winning engineer Oz Fritz.
Kamm, Mojo and most recently Snow have been busy creating a large backlog of original live material for the band, and because of that, and with Snow replacing the group’s original bass player, the members felt it was high time to get back into the studio to showcase a portion of the new songs and the updated sound.
“We crammed 14 songs onto this new record, and it still wasn’t long enough to address a lot of the songs that we do live,” Kamm said. “But we had to get as much onto this new record as possible to have a product that reflected what we’re doing now and also something that is more representative of what the band sounds like in its current formation.”
“Stones to Sand” seems a statement record of sorts. Achilles Wheel still draws on the influences that first shaped the band, but at the same time, utilizes their own songwriting chops to make the case that they are a band like no other, out from under the shadow of another very popular Grateful Dead tribute band that three-fifths of the Achilles Wheel lineup has long been associated with.
“It’s no secret to most people around here that myself, Gary Campus and Mark McCartney play in the Dead Beats. The Dead Beats will be celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, so we have a history of playing as a Grateful Dead cover band,” Kamm said.
”But we (Achilles Wheel) cover the Grateful Dead in the way the Grateful Dead covered other artists. It’s not like we’re going to get stuck playing the same thing all night long. It’s liberating, too, because we love playing our own music … Making this record has been a way of finalizing the fact that we have something of our own.”
The album title, “Stones To Sand,” seems to allude to change and the passing of time.
In that regard it should be interesting to watch the progression Achilles Wheel takes in the coming months as they continue to widen their fan base and propel their sound into the future. The journey continues tonight.
“I love this record a lot,” Kamm said. “For me, it’s the first collection of rock and roll dance music, which I love, that reflects that part of me as an artist, and it’s really exhilarating to have finally finished it.”
Tom Kellar is a freelance writer in Grass Valley.