[Click play above to stream Joy’s Ride Along in full. Album is out this Friday, April 29, on Tee Pee Records.]
San Diego trio Joy made their debut on Tee Pee Records in 2014 with their second album overall, Under the Spell of… (review here), a jammy, boogie-loaded outing that seemed to distill much of what has become identified with the boom in Californian heavy, particularly centered around San Diego in bands like Radio Moscow and Earthless. Joy‘s exclamatory third LP, Ride Along!, continues the thread, features contributions from members of those two outfits as well as labelmates Sacri Monti, and refines the band’s approach both in its making — guitarist/vocalist Zach Oakley also stepping up to produce at San Diego’s Audio Design Studios — and in style, Oakley, returning bassist Justin Hulson and new drummer Thomas DiBenedetto (also Sacri Monti) stripping away some of the expanse songs on their last outing offered in favor of a more straightforwardly structured approach, if one still presented through torrents of winding blues riffs, fervent psychedelic boogie and heavy-minded grooves.
The elements are familiar — guitar, bass, drums, vocals, a flash of organ on “Red, White and Blues” and elsewhere, acoustics on “Peyote Blues,” etc. — but it’s the energy Joy bring to their delivery and the turns their material makes that ultimately distinguish them from the crowded West Coast heavy sphere, and in accordance with being of their place and of the heavy ’10s pastiche, Ride Along! issues an invitation that’s hard to refuse as it careens through its 10-track/40-minute run with little care for what or whom it leaves in its dust.
If a release like Ride Along! is going to work in the slightest, vibe is essential, and fortunately, Joy have it in spades. As guest personnel come and go, the band retains a solid — and by solid I mean utterly molten — foundation of hard-hitting blues boogie, the entirety of side A making for an opening salvo that seems to have launched only to launch again, retaining momentum across the first three cuts, “I’ve Been Down (Set Me Free),” “Misunderstood” and “Evil Woman” just to propel itself yet again with the infectious “Going Down Slow” and the ZZ Top cover, “Certified Blues,” which caps the first half of the record. In that span, Joy still find room to jam, whether that’s the layers of guitar on “Going Down Slow” or extended solo section in “Evil Woman” — she’s evil because she left, if you’re wondering — both of which traffic in wah-drenched gnarl, “Evil Woman” adding a touch of organ along the way or at least seeming to as it winds its way toward a return to the hook.
Classic heavy is a touchstone there as on the preceding “Misunderstood” and “I’ve Been Down (Set Me Free),” but the sing-along shuffle chorus of the opener sets the tone for a natural, live-tracked feel that may owe even more than it realizes to the likes of Nebula even as it seems to be Oakley working on his own and pushing up against Radio Moscow-style rhythmic insistence. Speaking of, that band’s guitarist/vocalist, Parker Griggs, shows up on “Peyote Blues,” and Earthless drummer Mario Rubalcaba contributes to “Evil Woman” and side B’s “Red, White and Blues,” the former also featuring Sacri Monti‘s Brenden Dellar on guitar alongside Oakley. The guest spots are a welcome touch — not going to argue against hearing any of those people play — but Joy make the album’s primary impression on their own, twisting and turning to start side B with “Help Me,” a rawer sound adding elements of unhinged garage rock that suit them well amid the maddening insistence of DiBenedetto‘s drumming.
Its stomp no less riotous than “I’ve Been Down (Set Me Free)” at the start of the record, “Help Me” pushes into “Red, White and Blues,” which hardly tops three minutes but remains a standout for how it begins to push against the straightforward take much of Ride Along! has to this point presented, refusing to return from its solo section jam and instead giving way to the acoustic/percussion fade-in of “Peyote Blues,” which seems a kind of companion to “Death Hymn Blues” from Under the Spell of…, though more brightly psychedelic. The entrance of drums and electrified soloing near the halfway point builds to a head, and though the roots might be similar, “Peyote Blues” turns out to be arguably the most adventurous arrangement on the album. Even so, it seems to thrust its way toward the finish, leading to the all-swing-all-the-time “Ride Along!,” on which Oakley howls out the LP’s title line and adds a kind of far-back atmospheric sense as it fades out long but ultimately quickly, letting closer “Gypsy Mother’s Son” cap Ride Along! on a spacier, fuzzier note.
Also the longest inclusion at 6:27, it basks in the chemistry between Oakley, Hulson and DiBenedetto, lead lines tossed in over warm basslines and enviable snare shuffle, wah, vocal reverb, weighted shove — and finally, the departure into the jam at about three minutes in, drums leading the way out on a (temporary) boogie excursion that effectively captures stage-born vitality as the entirety of Ride Along! has been doing all the while. They turn back to the chorus, offer a big rock finish, decide they’re not done, ride out another measure or two, and cut “Gypsy Mother’s Son” cold to end. One can almost hear a crowd erupt. And who would argue? Joy‘s fleet-footed turns, their catchy songs, their balance between tripped-out effects and air-tight performances assure that, once again, they live up to their name. They’ve had a few jammier releases in addition to their proper studio albums, so I wouldn’t necessarily expect Joy to be finished altogether with the kind of acid-vibed explorations they previously honed, but it would be wrong to ignore the quality of the work they’ve done in carving these songs out of those jams in the meantime.