Not to be confused with the trad doom trio Pilgrim from Providence, Rhode Island, The Pilgrim are a bluesier heavy rocking five-piece from Baltimore. They make their debut in the form of the full-length The Pilgrim, which they’re self-releasing on Kickstarter-supported vinyl. The six songs that comprise the album were put to tape in 2009 by Rob Girardi at Sir Lord Baltimore Studio, and the band reportedly traded roofing in order to get the tracks recorded, so if you’re wondering what might be behind a three-year delay between tracking and pressing, let that give some indication of the kind of budget they’re working with. Nonetheless, a Spring 2012 tour also brought a handcrafted CD digipak issue, limited to 500, so the songs are out there one way or another, however much they might represent a version of The Pilgrim that The Pilgrim have already outgrown. If that’s the case (and I’ll underscore the point that I don’t know if it is or isn’t), all the more kudos to the band, because the tracks on The Pilgrim hardly sound formative. They’re crisply produced in a manner both organic and professional, and the band maintains a rough-hewn energy well suited to their ‘70s-derived sound, vocalist Mis Zill and guitarist Bob Sweeney coming together in several of the songs – “Cold Lady” and the later “Hey Freddy” and “The Pilgrim,” as examples – for what might truly be called duet parts. The band behind them, which has been through two bass players since Scott Rot played on this album (including Tonie Joy of the recently-reviewed The Convocation and current bassist Dan Evans), proves nimble, moving between fuzzy swagger on “Perdido” and a boogie shuffle on the title-track, guitarist Danny McDonald, Sweeney, Evans and drummer Derrick Hans touching on a variety of ‘70s rock tendencies without really ever aping one band or another. The resulting atmosphere hits on a mood somewhat reminiscent of Valkyrie’s Man of Two Visions, which was hard to place in a similar way – Zill’s vocals being an obvious difference between the two bands.
The Pilgrim have a clear awareness of their genre, and that shows right from the start of “Really Movin’,” which opens the self-titled with blues harp and a driving, classically-styled riff. Hans makes his snare pay for some unknown crime while McDonald and Sweeney move into and out of harmony with each other – feel free to cite Thin Lizzy for riff construction and any number of classic acts who’ve put their two guitars to good use over the decades as comparison points – and Rot does well holding the rhythm with the drums but veering here and there with and between the guitars. Zill’s vocals are an immediate focal point. She’s mixed high but is a more than capable singer, though perhaps best when backed by Sweeney and McDonald on “Cold Lady,” the longest cut on The Pilgrim at 8:12 and arguably the most stylistically complex as well, flowing well from one part to the next in its first half and much of the second to a frenetic boogie and slower break that boasts some of the album’s best vocals repeating the line “Go on and go.” That kind of strength of performance is heard again in the chorus of side B opener “Hey Freddy,” and because of that, it’s easy (and somewhat ironic) to forget “Perdido” closing out side A, but if you’re into dueling solos, it’s not to be missed. Sweeney and McDonald seem both to be lead players, which might account for their adept melodicism as well, and “Perdido” is a blistering showcase of their prowess, as well as a well-written song, on which Zill tops a kind of Witchcraftian sub-waltz (there’s a riff in there that keeps taking me back to “What I Am” from the first album – not a complaint) with an appropriately more crooned delivery. When “Hey Freddy” arrives on the CD, it does so as an energetic burst to contrast the subdued finish of the track before it.
Hard to pick between “Hey Freddy” and “The Pilgrim” which is the highlight of the record as a whole, but it’s definitely one of them. As strong as “Cold Lady” was on the first side, The Pilgrim seem to fit the more straightforward methodology the side B duo present before closer “Gunpowder Memorial” returns to some of the complexity of “Cold Lady,” albeit in an effective linear build. “Hey Freddy” is a particular vocal highlight, and “The Pilgrim” earns its place as the title-track with the strongest chorus of the collection, the lines “If I could find the lamp someday/I’d use all three wishes for you” soon to be turned on their head about as quickly as they’re stuck in mine. That they would also be two of the shortest tracks on the album – along with “Really Movin’,” which is the quickest of the bunch at 4:08 – at 5:32 and 6:35, respectively, also might have something to do with it. “The Pilgrim” isn’t much shorter than “Perdido,” at 6:56, but still, where that song and the other longer tracks have room to indulge more parts and more soloing, “Hey Freddy” and “The Pilgrim” focus on the songwriting itself, which works to their favor. It’s not like Sweeney or McDonald can’t write a chorus and need to put on a clinic to cover for it. If you look at the six songs, with “Really Movin’,” “Hey Freddy” and “The Pilgrim” on one side of the argument, you still have “Cold Lady,” “Perdido” and “Gunpowder Memorial” on the other, so the album’s balance speaks for itself. Given that and the overall flow that The Pilgrim are able to affect, I wouldn’t trade one side of their sound for another. Instead, I’ll look forward to the follow-up to The Pilgrim, whenever it might arrive, and hope to find out how and in what directions the band may have developed since these tracks were recorded. Three years is a long time for a group to grow, and this album is nothing if not an already strong start. Hopefully they get another one together in a timely fashion.
Tags: Baltimore, Maryland, The Pilgrim, The Pilgrim Baltimore, The Pilgrim rock, Unsigned bands