Review: Righteous Fool ‘Righteous Fool’

I’ll begin the proceedings by acknowledging that despite this being the debut album from Raleigh, North Carolina’s Righteous Fool, I’ve been listening to two of the three musicians involved since WAY back in 1986. You see, Righteous Fool is the ‘side project’ from Raleigh’s legendary, immortal, heavy-genre-defining, heavy-genre-bending Corrosion Of Conformity, as it features the founding rhythm section; bassist, vocalist, all-around-legend Mike Dean, and drummer, vocalist, now-eternal-legend Reed Mullin, who sadly passed away at the beginning of 2020, perhaps foreshadowing the shit-show of the last two-and-a-half years, as well as guitarist Jason Browning from HR’s (Bad Brains) solo band.

Righteous Fool 'Righteous Fool'

Righteous Fool came together back in 2009 when COC were on hiatus after frontman and guitarist Pepper Keenan left to focus on his own side project, Down. Meanwhile, Mullin, out of COC for almost a decade by this time, having last appeared on America’s Volume Dealer back in 2000, showed up with Browning, unannounced to Dean‘s house, and despite not seeing each other for a decade, informed him he wanted to start a new band, and thus Righteous Fool was born.

The band quickly made a name for themselves in the underground, the member’s pedigrees being one of the obvious reasons, and the band put out a Self-Titled two-song 7″ on Southern Lord in 2010, both of which appear on this record (Forever Flames and Edict of Worms). In 2012, COC reunited their original, Animosity-era lineup, Mullin, Dean, and original guitarist Woody Weatherman (easily one of the most underrated and underappreciated guitarists in the entire realm of underground rock) and recorded (the also-underrated and under-appreciated) Corrosion Of Conformity at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606 in California. It was during these sessions that Righteous Fool recorded their self-titled album.

In the wake of Mullin’s way-too-soon demise, the remaining members decided to go ahead and release the full length on Ripple Music. Any listener familiar with any of the many eras of COC will find these sounds instantly recognizable. For one thing, there’s Mike Dean. A singular, unique presence both as a bassist as well as a human being, his inimitable, spider-finger, Billy Cox-style thump bass playing is all over this record. Righteous Fool opens with the Introduction and Dean quickly shows us both his sense of melody, and his stoner and doom bass-wizard thud. When I threw this on for the first time, I could instantly picture Dean’sunique stage presence, his bass strapped high, his odd little lunge, and his wild-ass hair.

Enter The Fool goes from mellow bassline to a doomy thud, before giving way to the chugging, thrust of Asteroid, which sonically is very similar to the aforementioned COC Self-Titled record, its follow-up IX, and the Megalodon EP. COC, in Keenan’s absence, morphed into a hybrid of their early Animosity crossover-thrash era, and their early ‘90s southern rock Deliverance/Wiseblood era. Mullin, not surprisingly, is on fire on the record as well. Not to be outdone by his long-time rhythm partner, he puts on a punk rock and thrash clinic on Asteroid, showing why he has always been considered one of the underground’s best drummers.

Shifty has some really killer, dirty riffage from Browning with a grooving bashing rhythm attack from Mullin and Dean. Browning was the wild card for me, as I put Woody Weatherman on a pretty high pedestal, but Browning’s riffs are top-notch throughout, as the build-up/pay-off of Shifty puts on vivid display. Forever Flames, from the 7”, is a big grooving, riff-fest. Browning’stone and approach are different from Weatherman’s, most guitarists are, but his feel and dynamic with Mullin and Dean is evident.

dirty riffage from Browning with a grooving bashing rhythm attack from Mullin and Dean…

Dean, as a vocalist, has always had a very unique, almost-moan-like vocal approach. It’s instantly identifiable, regardless of era, and he’s always held his own as a singer. His vocal stylings are highlighted on Righteous Fool’s doomed-the-fuck out, yet trippy version of The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Prong Crown). Their take on the classic track is more in line with Peter Green’s original Fleetwood Mac version than the riffy-crunch fest that is Judas Priest’sversion (I’m a huge fan of both.) It’s a killer take as all three musicians stand out, accented by a tripped-out, funky bridge in between the main verses that adds a killer spin before Dean‘s vocals and big riff emerge. Despite being a cover, it’s a highlight of the record.

Browning displays his knowledge of HR’s legendary band Bad Brains with a total I Against I/Quickness-era, Dr. Know-style chug on Heavy Is The Head. As well, Dean steps aside from the mic, giving way to I want to guess Mullin, but could be Browning as all three musicians get a crack at the mic. Stating the obvious, it sounds like Quickness-era Bad Brains Meets Corrosion Of Conformity era COC, and I mean that comparison in the best way possible.

Dean returns to the mic, with his unmistakable voice on the chugging, bashing, The Overblown. Mullin shines on this cut as well, putting on a clinic, and reminding us how much he’s already missed. We get grimy, slow, and bluesy with Righteous Fool’s take on Hard Time Killing Floor. Big fuzzy riffs, peppered with shred from Browning, and killer, grooved-out thud from Dean, along with those vocals of his, and Mullin goes off, holds back, stays behind the beat, and attacks the shit all throughout this track.

Edict Of Worms, also from the 7”, is sequenced perfectly and Mullin stands out both for his drumming and his vocals. Loosing zero momentum, Low Blow also features Mullin’svocals, and big, swinging drums. We ride out with the trippy, spacey, Vortex, which is a fitting closer both sonically, and in its title.

What a cool release this is. As a fan of Corrosion Of Conformity for well over thirty years, it was a treat to hear this record, it’s different but very similar tonally to those underrated Animosity-era records Corrosion Of Conformity and IX. As well, it’s at least co-produced by longtime-COC producer John Custer, the man responsible for those unique, crunchy, ZZ Top style sounds on all those classic COC records, so the sonic similarity isn’t altogether surprising to say nothing of Dean and Mullin playing together for so long. Plus, it’s super cool to hear Mullin go off again, not just on the drums, but the vox too. I’m sure as time passes COC will excavate the vault, and we’ll get more from Mullin, but for now, in 2022, this record rules. Fly on Mule.

Label: Ripple Music

Scribed by: Martin Williams