Mike Ross is an artist who continues to break free of genre limitations. If you listen to his albums in release order (starting with Spindrift), his music takes you on a journey with an ever-changing musical landscape. These include blues, American, blues rock, country and some dashing of other sounds thrown in for good measure. He mixes it up further as he switches between electric and acoustic guitars. He is at his best when his soundtrack oozes with the blues, as the flawless The Clovis Limit Tennessee Transition confirms. It’s a collection of songs that pays homage to the roots of blues music. Give “Grow In Your Garden” to hear how good he can sound.
It is no surprise Mike Ross has changed things again for his new album Third Eye Open. He describes it as “a real bone-shaker of a record. There’s definitely been a feeling of coming ‘full circle’ this time around. Bringing all of my influences and material bang up to date. The final 12-track behemoth of a record is hands down the biggest, fattest, nastiest, chunkiest thing I’ve ever done!”. He says the story behind the album, “As far as I’m concerned, the greed and hypocrisy of the times we’re living in are an affront to human dignity. I’m sick and tired of being lied to all the time. I wanted to capture those feelings in the music and lyrics”. It is shaping up to be a powerhouse of a release. Let’s find out how it sounds.
As you press play on Third Eye Open, you get hit by a track that does not hold back. The opening guitars on “I Swear” grab your attention from the get-go. It is not long for Ross’ vocals to join in with a rock growl tone to match the mood. It helps to add power to the opening lines, “Oh what a mess you’ve left me / Said it’s enough to drive a good man crazy”. This is a song where the guitars rule the land. These skills have always impressed, but with this album, he unleashes his guitar to project a sound that has more growl and bite. As a bonus, he delivers a killer solo too. These hard-rocking traits feature throughout the album, but not all. When they do appear, they will hit hard (in a good way), as “The Preacher” and “Eulogy” can testify.
Mike Ross unleashes his guitars to deliver his rockier side with his new album ‘Third Eye Open’
However, this album has more to offer with its soundtrack. There are softer moments with tracks like “Fallen Down”, while “Never No More” has some country qualities. As well as Ross (vocals, guitar, organ), this vast musical landscape is brought to life with the help of Derek Randall (vocals, bass) and Darren Lee (drums). For long-time fans, don’t worry, as there is a bluesy gem with “Face By Your Window”. It is one of the many outstanding moments from the album. The way he gets his guitar to sing is something special, even more when it steals the spotlight with a few solo moments.
As much as Ross can create magic with his guitar, his way with words is equally impressive. He uses them in various ways, but all to stunning effect. Songs such as “Ugly Brain” are used to share stories. It tells a take that “bemoan the duplicitous behaviour of ‘so-called’ friends”. Lyrically, it has a lot to say, with standout lines such as, “Is it any wonder that I feel this way? / Is it any wonder that it blows me away / Put that burden down, lay aside your troubles & rest up for the night”. He can also mould them to create singalong moments and deliver a positive message. A great example is “Fallen Down” with the lines, “Fallen down get up get up again / missed the ground, you missed the point again / can’t you see? / you just need to be happy”.
Like his music, the vocals by Ross have a great range too. Either with attitude and growl to the rockier tracks or toning it down for softer moments. While songs like “Born To Me” shows how he can switch from a gentle tone with the line “Misery, loves company” but change to a faster pace with the following lines. But, when he showcases his softer vocals, you notice this side of his music the most. The perfect example is “(Be With You) Tonight”. It offers something different as he goes country and duets with Jess Hayes. They combine to share a captivating story filled with authentic emotion. A quality that steals the spotlight during the chorus, “In the morning It feels so right / I can’t wait to be with you tonight / When I call you / And you reply / I can’t wait to be with you tonight”.
There are many moments when these qualities all come together to create something outstanding. Let’s talk about one that stands taller than the others. The title track, “Third Eye Open”, is what Ross meant when he said, “biggest, fattest, nastiest, chunkiest thing I’ve ever done!”. It is a monster, lasting over 8 minutes. It opens with a deceptive gentle instrument beginning. Suddenly an angry grungy-style guitar kicks down the door and says, ‘I’m Here!’. It sets the tone for a song he says “tackles some pretty decisive subjects such as sexual freedom, moral signalling and a suggestion that ‘not behaving like an asshole when you knew better’ could be the path to enlightenment!”. He has a lot to say, but it never feels too much.
He begins, “Don’t you dare to call me woke, when you are fast asleep / You can’t offer a single truth or a promise that you can keep”. Its grungy rock tone gives his words an intensity that makes you listen. His guitars and the delivery of his lyrics helps to pack a punch to his message. It helps to make lines such as, “Imagine the end of oppression, of pitiless hatred and of greed / Open your hearts shut your mouths, trust in me / There’s a new world coming, and it’s one not built on fear / The more you struggle against the change, worse it’s gonna feel” stand out. It is effective during the chorus, “When the morning has broken / And all the words have been spoken / The air gets filled with sweet emotion / That’s when you feel your third eye open”.
As well as his way with words, the soundtrack is equally as impressive. His guitar is in fine form by supporting his lyrics or grabbing the limelight with some oustanding solo moments. Another highlight is the musical arrangement midway through, which features Ross softly speaking in the background. All these pieces come together to create an epic track from another excellent release by Mike Ross. Third Eye Blind showcases a different side of his music but it still keeps you wanting more. Treat your ears to something new, and give this album a listen.