Now Playing: John Surge and the Haymakers’ ‘Your Wonderful Life’

Image courtesy of John Surge and the Haymakers

California-based John Surge and the Haymakers is prepping for the radio release of their premiere platter, Your Wonderful Life. Their debut disc is out now and set to officially air on January 14. But first, for those not yet familiar with the act in question, a bit o’ background.

John Surge and the Haymakers

Image: Lori West

John Surge and the Haymakers were founded in 2016. Surge was once half of a musical duo named Haymaker. When his partner left, Surge chose to put together a new act. On his website Surge spoke of the band’s origins:

“I’d never put my name on anything before,” he recalls, “so I decided to try it.” He connected with guitarist Randy Volin. “He’s like my Mike Campbell,” Surge noted. Next came drummer Simon Runge and bassist Alex U’ren.

They spent the next two years playing all over Los Angeles. Surge and anywhere around L.A. for two years. “We were just having fun and creating a sound,” said Surge.

Signature sound

John Surge and the Haymakers’ signature sound is a high-energy mix of music genres, including alt-country, Americana, West Coast country, folk, heartland rock ‘n’ roll, pop, and West Coast twang.

Your Wonderful Life

Surge found the inspiration for this album in his “earliest visits to Los Angeles.” It was there he took in “influential ‘80s shows by celebrated country-influenced bands such as Rank And File, the Long Ryders, and Lone Justice.”

Surge sings lead vocals and trades in his Telecaster electric guitar for a Gibson acoustic. A recent press release confirms that this marks Surge’s official “debut as a frontman.” While his rockin’ resume includes stints in garage rock acts and duos, this is something new for the singer/songwriter and musician.

Here he fronts not only the Haymakers but an assortment of other artists as well. They include Marty Rifkin (who recorded with Bruce Springsteen) on pedal steel guitar, Ted Russell Kamp and Steve Nelson on bass, Carl Byron on keyboards, co-producer Kevin Jarvis (Duane Jarvis’ brother) on percussion and Steve DeWitt and K.P. Hawthorn on harmonies.

Track by track

This nine-track album opens on “Ricochet.” It’s a great So-Cal country-rock intro to the act written by Surge and Volin. It comes complete with Alan Jackson-esque vocals, a touch of twangy guitar and other classic elements.

The musical momentum continues on the title track. It’s an excellent intro to Surge’s solo songwriting abilities and ends a tad too soon for this critic’s tastes.

The next number is “Barstow To Baker.” This alt-country cut is a Surge-Serby collaboration and would work well on any road trip compilation. This is one of those colorful ballads that demonstrates why some critics compare him to Tom Petty.

Next comes “One Promise At A Time.” The song provides listeners with a more guitar-driven melody. This one is radio-ready.

Things slow down slightly on “Studio Apartment Blues.” You can sense the solitude in this honest, black humor-tinged song that any indie artist can appreciate. If you’re struggling now or ever have struggled then you’ll empathize with this weathered character.

Things pick up again with “Heather Lee.” It is perhaps somewhat overshadowed here. Nevertheless, the signature sound remains solid here and it oddly has a tiny trace of 1960s guitar to it that makes it stand out to anyone who truly listens.

“You’re Really Good (At Making me Feel Bad)” is another radio-ready tune. The song certainly works for anyone who has had a bad relationship or two and the lyrics are clever enough to make it work with live audiences too.

“Gun Sale At The Church” is Surge’s rockin’ rendition of a song by the Beat Farmers. It’s got a driving rhythm and keeps the album moving. It’s an early fave of online critics and who can blame them? Surge and the band own this one.

The album endnote is “Long Enough.” Having grown up north of Philly, your rockin’ reviewer simply must agree with a previous vocal comparison to Philadelphia’s own Americana artist Robert Hazard. It’s an exceptional, quiet closing cut that includes a sad yet beautiful bit of musical melancholy highlighted by steel guitar. It’s a slow dance song that works so well because it’s infected with honesty, intimacy, and affection.

With a running time of over 28 minutes, this release is a look at life via an L.A. filter that other artists aren’t offering audiences. Here Surge serves up his own personal presentational perspective on some universal experiences and tuneful traditions. Surge and the Haymakers work hard to both honor those who have come before and make their own mark at the same time. So check out John Surge and the Haymakers’ Your Wonderful Life because you’ve waited “Long Enough.”