Monday, January 6, 2014

Altered Five Gotta Earn It Album Review


This CD review was originally published in the March 7, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Altered Five – Gotta Earn It

Self-produced through Conclave Records

10 tracks / 40:56

There is a lot of great music that comes out of the Midwest, and I find that many of my favorite rock bands and blues artists come out of that part of the States. I don’t know if it is the long cold winters, the flat land, or something special they add to the water, but I am not questioning the results. Altered Five comes straight out of Milwaukee and lives up to my expectations for a fine Midwestern blues and soul band!

Altered Five has been together since 2002, touring and playing festivals with material that consisted mostly of gassed up and funky versions of cover tunes. You can hear their takes on songs from artists such as The Pretenders, Sting and Prince on their 2008 debut album, Bluesified. But as of late, they have been focusing more on writing their own songs, as you will hear with their follow-up effort, Gotta Earn It.

Seven of the ten songs on Gotta Earn It are originals, with just a few wisely chosen cover tunes from Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, and Buddy Guy. This quintet (Altered Five, get it?) includes Jeff “JT” Taylor on vocals, Jeff Schroedl on guitar, Scott Schroedl on drums, Mark Solveson on bass and Raymond Tevich on keyboards. These guys are all very good musicians, and all of those gigs have formed a very tight connection as they are perfectly in sync and groove marvelously with each other.

They start the CD off with a cover tune, and by their song choice, you can tell right away that they changed their game plan and no longer cover the tops hits of the past few decades. “Ain’t that Peculiar” is a 1965 song from Marvin Gaye that was written by Smokey Robinson and the other guys from the Miracles. This was a popular song from Marvin Gaye back in the day, but it is certainly not as popular (or catchy) as “Heard it through the Grapevine.” The band has turned up the rock and tempo knobs on this version and cleverly arranged it so it sounds edgy but not harsh or too complicated. Taylor’s voice is powerful and raw, and it is perfectly suited to the blues rock that Altered Five creates.

The other two cover songs are also pretty cool, and the band went to a lot of trouble to make them their own. “You’ve Got to Earn It” is another Smokey Robinson song that was a Temptations B-side from 1964; though the words are the same, Altered Five’s version is a lot funkier. And Willie Dixon’s “Watch Yourself” is faster and edgier than the version that Buddy Guy recorded back in 1961.

You will find that their original songs are very solid, too. The lyrics are not terribly complicated and mostly use predictable rhymes, but in each case they do a good job of painting a complete musical picture. In the course of the album they are able to provide a little bit of something to interest most average blues or rock fans on Gotta Earn It.

“Three Wishes” is a mournful soul ballad with a lot of gospel sound to it and truly bummed-out lyrics. Scott Schroedl and Mark Solveson are hold down a steady and restrained bottom end while dual piano and organ parts play under scorching guitar riffs and solos. There are also a few nice blues pieces, but none of them are in the same style. Though “Keep the Best,” “Older, Wiser, Richer,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Tight Spot” are all different types of blues, they all have the Altered Five sound to them. This unique sound is more noticeable because of the way this album was mixed, as every instrument really jumps out at you. If you don’t like the music in your face, this might not be for you…

While everything this band plays has a little funk to it, they went all out on “Dynamite.” This song is covered with distorted guitars and vocals, and fairly simple lyrics to elicit thoughts of a truly deadly lover. And to finish things up they ended the CD with “Bounce Back,” which is the most pop-oriented of the bunch. Taylor smoothes his vocals out and tones things down, showing that his vocal skills are multi-dimensional. I would be slacking off here if I did not provide an honorable mention for Tevich’s funky organ work -- it is really quite amazing.

Altered Five has avoided the sophomore slump with “Gotta Earn It,” and in fact it is a better album then their debut due to the inclusion of their own material. They have an original sound while providing entertaining blues-based music and you will find that it is certainly worth the time to take a listen.


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