Taco Donkey
Cosa Nostra

One of the local bar scene’s regular jammers, blues-rock trio Taco Donkey spends most of its time gettin’ down at Charleston Beer Works, the Brick, and Home Team BBQ. Singer/guitarist Fank Nelson, singer/bassist Jack Kiser, and drummer Keith Aikman recently found time to lay down some tracks at BlackTree Studio on Johns Island. PlaneJane’s Scott Sain was at the mixing desk. The end result is a brief but fairly likable Southern-fried package, hobbled by a few missteps.

Full of reverb, Nelson’s dirty-tone guitar crank-starts the lead-off song “Better Now” with a Zeppelin-like riff. The band joins in with a syncopated and steady blues-riff groove. As the song plods, the tempo gets a little wobbly and the singing gets a bit yelpy. It’s a hit-and-miss kickoff. Tighter and more creatively arranged is the next song, the waltzy ballad “Breakin’ Me.” The scratchy vocals come through with convincing heartache and pain.

The acoustic guitar on “The Closer That I Near,” basically a Nelson solo tune, resembles the rumble of the Everly Brothers and the smooth vibes of early Paul Simon. With the same muscular blues-rock approach as the album opener, “Cloud City” lumbers along with medium energy. The wah-wah effect on the solos is a nice touch, though. The reggae-stylings of the straightforward “Get Love” initially seem out of place, but the rhythm section pushes the beat with more of a drowsy funk-rock feel, which better suits the band.

Cosa Nostra‘s closing song “Who’s to Blame” might be the most solid of the bunch. Based on a swampy, minor-key hook, the band performs more comfortably and expressively than the previous tracks. They sound like they actually feel the way the lyrics say they feel — mournful, despondent, and kinda pissed off.

Overall, the eight song set makes for a pretty decent demo for Taco Donkey. As a serious debut album, however, it’s a mixed bag. Technically, the sound quality is nicely balanced, and the tones of the instruments are fine, but the musicians themselves sound too reserved. The result is a mostly uninspired, low-energy set, devoid of the exuberance and raw emotion to make it a kick-ass good time.

There are glimmers of hope. The uptempo tracks can easily become killer show-stoppers. Nelson’s solos have a natural feel and warmth to them. And the singing has a sense of confidence. Hopefully, they’ll let it all hang out on a sophomore effort. (tacodonkey.com