Around last summer, Consequence of Sound began receiving tons of artists’ material from all over the country into our mailboxes and email accounts. From the outer reaches of the West Coast to the fiery streets of New York, the summer of 2008 became a pivotal point; a paradigm shift in how our site would function. One of those artists we profiled, Chicago’s very own AJ Martin aka Slow Gun Shogun, quickly entered the collective minds with some of the staff around here. From the wisdom of approaching the Chicago scene to his multi-layered backgrounds in both country and heavy metal, Slow Gun Shogun’s debut LP Cancer Berries delivers a subtle punch to the mouth following on the heels of his 2008 EP Eve, Adam & The Apple. To put it simply, cowboys and punk rockers can finally find a way to bond without all the crap getting in the way.
Holed up in his own studio apartment with nothing but an old, busted 4-track for months on end and tirelessly self-producing the thing, the ending results for Cancer Berries are beyond awesome. Kicking off with a psychedelic opening in “Invocation” with its endless loops of old ’70s television and Richard Pryor standup, the minute and a half track also pays respect to the old reggae toasters from the early ’80s, reminiscent of Afrika Bambaataa and Mikey Dread. After the gloomy intro, Shogun switches it up into a Monster Magnet-influenced stoner jam “Aces Over 8’s.” Vocally, Martin channels Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf with excellent precision, complete with warbling distortion and creamy, meat chocked riffs to skewer over. Instead of the typical drum set flare behind the man’s guitarwork, Martin opts for nothing but a bass drum and a tambourine to scoop out the album’s sole percussion. This is the literal definition of the “one man band” and Chicago’s Slow Gun Shogun certainly puts that term to the grindstone. Oh and it also doesn’t hurt that these riffs are catchy as hell.
After the droning stoner jam completes, Martin switches up gears again, this time dealing with drug addiction and aforementioned junkies in the album’s arguably best composition, “Devil’s Bedpost.” Mixing one part spoken word foreboding warning from Martin, one part great bluesy guitar and two parts shake & stomp percussion, “Devil’s Bedpost” is the type of tune you’d hear in a dive bar with the lights down low, your head circling the brim of your pint glass and setting your ears free to capture as much soul as possible. Case in point, “Devil’s Bedpost” combines the technical riffage with great songwriting ability; a rare feat indeed.
The next few tunes that follow, the experimental distorted rocker “Bullet Shit”, the riff chocked “7Lightning Bolt Blues”, the tingy love ballad “Left Hand Path” and the bluesy Irish jig-like “Yer So Cruel” Martin paints his punk rock persona over the country drenched hills of Tennessee. What Martin explored on his first EP, he blows his previous work (both creatively and engineered-wise) out of the water. Oddly enough, Slow Gun Shogun’s Cancer Berries ends with a cover of “Arkansas” by Charles Manson, seems a bit out of place. While it is indeed an unexpected track, it doesn’t work as well as the rest of his own compositions. It certainly is a great experiment, but Martin shines brilliantly on his own work by far.
For his first LP under his Slow Gun Shogun alter-ego, Martin’s album is pretty solid stuff. There are a few bumps in the road here and there, but what first album doesn’t? What matters here is the overall ethic and quality put into the music and Martin shows his commanding ability to delicately do both at the same time. From coffee shops to rock clubs, Cancer Berries has a foreseeable future bringing the bricks and mortar of Chicago to its dwellings. In the meantime, here’s an underdog you can finally root for without all the bullshit.