Atomic 7 Messes With Skynyrd Fans' Minds

By Steve Newton
Publish Date: 22-Jul-2004

That Brian Connelly guy has got it goin' on! His snazzy fretwork with Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet during the late '80s/early '90s helped make that group the leading instro-rock outfit in Canada, and his current trio, Atomic 7, is continuing the legacy. So it was with great zeal that I pored over the new A7 release, … en Hillbilly Caliente, when local indie label Mint Records shot a copy over to the Straight last week. As I was scanning the lengthy song list on the back of the CD--imagining what inventive guitar-bass-drums action could await in intriguing titles like "Bury My Foot at Wounded Knee" and "The Wreck of the Dick Family Wiener Boat"--I noticed that one tune was simply titled "Skynyrd". So I immediately fast-forwarded to Track 8, expecting to hear a flurry of reverb-heavy southern-blues licks. But nothing there brought to mind the down-home stylings of either Rossington, Collins, King, or Gaines; the song boasted more of a jazzy lounge vibe than anything else. This Skynyrd-loving moron had been had!

The next day, when a sweaty Connelly picks up the phone at his home in "revoltingly humid" Toronto, he's got some 'splaining to do. "That sort of came from playin' the redneck bars, where everybody's always screamin' for Skynyrd," he says with a chuckle. "So we thought, 'God, we might as well just write something.'" You'd think the bespectacled picker would know better than to taunt those who worship at the altar of Ronnie Van Zant--especially since the Atomic 7 tour that hits the Railway Club on Saturday (July 24) includes a stop in Canmore, Alberta--but it's clear after one run-through of … en Hillbilly Caliente's 17 tracks that there's more than enough twang onboard to soothe the savage breast.

Like its predecessor, 2002's … Gowns By Edith Head, the new Atomic 7 disc was recorded in T.O. by James Heidebrecht. Joining Connelly on the disc are drummer Mike Andrioso and new electric bassist Mandi Bird, who took over from standup bassist Clinton Ryder. "We like to record in the wintertime because it sorta keeps us off the road," Connelly says, "and James has a beautiful room with actual windows and a wood-burning stove, so you get cracks and pops on your record, even if you don't want them. And we just record everything live: no headphones, no monitors or anything like that. If there's holes, then you plug it up with an organ or an acoustic guitar or something like that."

Connelly's main guitar on … en Hillbilly Caliente's--which is shaping up as a candidate for my Top 10 list of 2004--is a Gretsch White Falcon. He claims that it's probably the "dumbest" instrument for instro-rock, but, for some reason, the gear he'd been using in Shadowy Men "never worked" in the Atomic 7 fold. "We know each other," he says of the elusive White Falcon. "We don't really like each other, but we tolerate each other. I've got a couple of other guitars, so I get infatuations and led around the block. You know, you accidentally go back to the Gretsch and it's like, 'Oh baby, why did I ever leave you? I can't stay mad at you.' And you curse yourself for wasting six months playing that silly Gibson."