By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Though they’ve only been around for six short years, Nashville-based quartet All Them Witches has quickly established a name for itself as one of the more creative heavy rock bands to emerge in the U.S. during this decade. Initially a partnership between guitarist Ben McLeod and drummer Robby Staebler, the group added singer/multi-instrumentalist Michael Parks, Jr and Staebler’s longtime friend Allan Van Cleave on Fender Rhodes electric piano shortly before recording their 2012 debut Our Mother Electricity.
A swampy, fuzzed-out trip into blues-drenched psychedelia, the album was picked up by German imprint Elektrohasch Schallplatten and quickly earned the band rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Exhibiting a nuanced songwriting touch that embraced hazy atmospherics and epic, slow-building tension, All Them Witches echoed ’70s greats (Zeppelin, the Doors, iconic southern rockers the Allman Brothers and the delta hoodoo of Dr. John’s debut Gris Gris) and modern stoner rock (Queens of the Stone Age, Dead Meadow) while crafting a wholly original style.
Extensive touring and the band’s stunning sophomore self-released effort Lightning at the Door further spread word of the quartet’s unique musical alchemy. Onstage, All Them Witches showed they could dismantle and reassemble their songs dramatically with fearless improvisational excursion that frequently veered into cover tunes and entirely new, spontaneously created compositions.
For the band’s 2015 effort and first for Nashville-based label New West, the foursome decamped to an isolated mountain cabin near the Eastern Tennessee town of Pigeon Forge (home of Dolly Parton’s Appalachian amusement park Dollywood) and set up a remote studio with engineer Mikey Allred for five days of intensive recording. The resulting songs on Dying Surfer Meets His Maker earned the group another round of ecstatic reviews.
For it’s fourth album, the quartet enlisted the services of noted Nashville producer Dave Cobb (who has helmed recordings by Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and Shooter Jennings) to track Sleeping Through the War at the vintage Creative Workshop recording studio. The sessions produced some of the band’s most immediate material yet on the anthemic “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and “Bruce Lee” while still allowing them room for extended improvisation as on the transporting epic “Internet,” a nearly ten-minute-long jam featuring wailing harp from Willie Nelson harmonica wizard Mickey Raphael.
The band has stayed busy over the past year. After issuing the free downloadable Lost and Found EP in February, the group when through it’s first major line-up change with the departure of Van Cleave. New keyboard player Jonathan Draper came on board and made contributions to the band’s latest effort, ATW. Produced by guitarist McLeod, the album takes a distinctly stripped-down approach on tunes like the freewheeling opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” and the propulsive “1st vs. 2nd.” Just last month, the band made the surprise announcement that Draper had also left the band, leaving All Them Witches as a trio.
For this return visit to San Francisco Tuesday night, the band plays its new songs alongside old favorites at the Independent. ATW comes to the Mission District to headline the Chapel. They will be joined by bluesy garage-boogie trio Handsome Jack, who have released a pair of albums on the Alive Natural Sound label.
All Them Witches
Tuesday, Nov. 13, 8 p.m. $15-$17