Steve Sullivan and The Factory’s Evil is a Man Made Thing is a hell of a lot of good old fashioned, balls-to-walls, barroom rock-and-roll fun. You can pretty much bet that after this band got done playing its December 28 CD release show at Shamrocks in St. Paul, construction workers had to come in and put the roof back on. It’s the kind of music that mixes just fine, thank you, with whiskey, beer, and non-stop dancing. In fact, it’s got a healthy helping of boogie-woogie with some rockabilly and Stax/Volt soul thrown in for good measure.
A tip of the hat has to go to Sullivan (vocals, guitar) simply for writing a full album of 12 songs without succumbing to the pitfall of repeating any of the melodies and for keeping the whole repertoire a lively, well-charged affair. For good measure, he engineered and mastered, working with producer Ephraim Buck, a fellow who clearly knows how to faithfully deliver a sound. The Factory, beyond any doubt, is a bonafide, airtight wrecking crew: Matthew Blake (acoustic bass), Jason Sweet (drums, percussion), Jessica Lynn Gates (trumpet, vocals), and Bill Hart (piano, organ) with Holly-Ann Latcham and Cassondra Lea Meyer sitting in on vocals.
Sullivan, granted, is not the strongest vocalist in the world, but he definitely gets the job done with undeniable presence and full-hearted commitment, pouring genuine passion into every note he sings. Here and there, he is going to put you in mind of Joe Cocker with that raspy edge, rapid-fire phrasing and go-for-broke intensity. He handles ballads considerably better, and is a lot smoother—for instance, doing some nice harmonizing behind Latcham on the good-timey “Nobody’s Sweetheart.”
The man truly shines on rollicking roadhouse rockers “Break It, Bend It” and “Doctor, Please,” belting out clean and clear, stepping solid enough to start a one-man parade. “Doctor, Please,” indeed, is the kind of pumping, powerhouse number that could damned near wake the dead, fueled by Blake playing such snaking bass it sounds like he switched to electric. It also showcases something you don’t often hear these days. Usually, for an organ sound, the keyboard player just flips a switch on his control panel. Here, Bill Hart does it straight-up old school, finessing the real instrument, laying on that telltale texture and, while he’s at it, adding real tasty piano playing. The cut, as well, is indicative of the overall arranging for this album. As much as the music’s in a time-tested, after-all-how-many-different-ways-can-they-do-it bag, the horn figures are by no means formulaic and considerably mark this as an original outing.
Another killer cut is “You Don’t Have To Cry,” snatched out of the ancient songbook of upbeat, soul-drenched torch songs. There are two sweet features here, Meyer and Sullivan switching off on lead vocals and Sullivan judiciously slipping in chicken-scratch licks and a salty lead that would do Steve Cropper proud.
The clever, wry, dry lyrics you can make out are about regular folk going through the general heartbreak and headaches everyone goes through, and no one can figure out why. Too bad there’s no lyric sheet, because from what I can tell Bob Seger has nothing at all on Sullivan.
In short, Steve Sullivan and The Factory bring it on Evil is a Man Made Thing, bring it like nobody’s business.