Fightin’ Bob is a new up and coming prog rock band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. What exact type of prog you may ask? All sorts is the answer, although a lot of their sounds are very blues, funk driven. Formed only in 2018, their current lineup is as follows: Jack Mackowski (drums, percussion), Saul Dinauer (bass), Jack Koshkin (keys, guitar), Rafael Gandre and Kathleen Westrup (vocals). The original lineup featured a different bassist, Kemet Gobel, who played on the debut album. What is particularly admirable about these remarkable musicians is their youth in such a stereotypically complex and demanding genre; they have entered the pond of progressive rock yet at the time of their formation they were between the ages of 14-16! But what an entrance they have made with their stunning self titled debut album: ‘Fightin’ Bob’. As well as the main blues and funk drive of the album, there are many moments where Fightin’ Bob inject various other musical influences such as psychedelia, folk and even some very welcoming classical moments.
The band has already made an excellent job at creating a name for themselves in only 2 years. They have had statewide success as finalists of Wisconsin’s 2018/19 Rockonsin competition. Moreover, they have had international success through the inclusion of ‘Nick the Rat’, from their debut album, on the free CD of issue 99 of the much loved and widely read ‘Prog Magazine’ – a real honour and a huge accomplishment for such a young and recently formed band. It is no surprise that they have already had these successes; their ability to perform, compose and arrange is exceptional. Koshkin’s role as both keys and guitar player, as well as Rafael and Saul’s multi-instrumental capabilities, are examples of this, and is certainly a challenge to flip from one instrumental medium to the other in live situations. Furthermore, the inclusion of both a male and female singer is refreshing but unfortunately not as common as it should be in the prog world – it’s one of the main reasons I like bands such as Mostly Autumn and Anathema. Their true love of prog is evident when watching their flawless live covers of prog greats such as Yes’ ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ and King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ but they are also very open-minded in regard to genre, doing covers of songs such as ‘U.S. Blues’ by Grateful Dead but with a prog spin. It is this open-mindedness that makes their debut album so musically varied and contrasting.
Their debut displays the band’s ability to play multiple genres within a prog context. ‘Breadsticks’ eases the listener in with some chilled out jazz chords on the organ, quite similar to Snarky Puppy’s sound to a certain extent, at least for the first half of the song. The second section brings in some psychedelic influences, focusing on only two chords that the band jam on. The rhythm section successfully grounds the spacey, open sounds that Koshkin creates using much reverb and a glass slide on the guitar. The 60s Hammond sound further contributes to this psychedelic feel. This dreaminess is then suddenly interrupted by the charged ‘Nick the Rat’, best demonstrating their funk capabilities, kicking off straight away with an infectious bluesy guitar riff. It certainly sets the playful mood of the piece, as the bass neatly underscores Koshkin’s big bluesy chords with some fast bass licks in the verse (or what sounds like a verse). The punk-style chromatic idea before the piano section sounds super effective with the vocals singing in contrary motion and greatly contrasts the ascending middle section of the piece that again transitions into a new genre. Koshkin’s piano entrance almost sounds like something a 19th century romantic pianist could have composed – such a sharp change in mood is very prog! This waltz-like middle section then brings the listener back into the world of funk as Koshkin treats himself to an extended guitar solo (and quite rightly so). Fightin’ Bob made a good choice using this for the ‘Prog Magazine’ submission as it is arguably the strongest song on the album – it unites all the elements of their sound. ‘Sahara Burst’ is the longest track on the album, clocking in at a wonderful 10 minutes. Gandre’s spoken intro (more like an announcement) over Mackowski’s progressive version of a drum roll is very circus-like which is interesting considering how acrobatic the next section is. I must say my favourite part of this song is the awesome bass solo later on; any band that allows the bassist a solo gets my respect as again it’s not as common as it really should be. After the solo sections, the music becomes more symphonic, reminiscent of bands such as Yes and Genesis. Their cover of Scottish folk song ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ breaks up the album nicely; it is Westrup who is centre stage on this song, her vocal technique suiting the folk style very convincingly. The mandolin is a nice addition that adds to the authenticity of the piece, whilst Gandre’s cello gives the piece a calming effect – an effective way to contrast the rest of the album. The final piece, ‘Molten Moonlight’ reminds me entirely of Pink Floyd and I imagine would fit nicely on ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. The extended guitar solo is epic, very soulful similar to that of Dave Gilmour or Steve Rothery; I much prefer this to the guitar shredders! The whole piece sounds like a euphoric climax and therefore is a great way to end the album.
As a debut album, this hits the jackpot. It unites a multitude of genres within their own progressive rock style. For their age, the complexity of the album is almost unbelievable, especially considering the many opportunities for improvisation that each musician is allowed – I am all for extended solos. If anyone wants to hear more of their material, there is a 30 minute piece on their Soundcloud called ‘Space Drums’ in which Mackowski puts most other drummers to shame as he showcases his talent for the drums. However, with the announcement on their social media of new material coming soon, it shouldn’t be too long to wait; I look forward to hearing what these clever musicians have to offer in the near future. Fightin’ Bob is truly a band ahead of their time.
Check out the band on all major social media platforms!
Here is a link to their debut album: https://fightinbob.bandcamp.com/releases
Let us know what your favorite track is!
Article written by Dominic Sanderson