CD Review: Fire Merchants S/T

Pennsylvania-born musician John Goodsall has made a name for himself working inside the music industry. Throughout the years, Goodsall has played guitar for many well-known names in the music industry. Just a few of the artists who have used the talents of John Goodsall include: Bill Bruford, Peter Gabriel and Billy Idol. Even Toni Basil of “Mickey” fame has used Goodsall to help shape the sound of her music.

One of the most progressive acts that Goodsall has been a part of over the years has been Brand X, a band that truly pushed the boundaries of what Progressive Rock could sound like. After that band took a break after their 1979 world tour, Goodsall moved to Los Angeles where he made a career for himself as a studio musician. Later, he found himself yearning to create the same type of progressive music that had been such a part of Brand X’s sound. Near the end of the 1980s, Goodsall helped to create the Progressive Rock/Jazz Fusion band called Fire Merchants.

While the band of Brand X had been rather progressive in its style of music, John Goodsall and Fire Merchants created a sound that exceeded the progressive nature of even Brand X’s style. It was with the help of bassist Doug Lunn and drummer Chester Thompson that Fire Merchants came into being. Together, Goodsall, Lunn and Thompson created the debut self-titled album from Fire Merchants.

The self-titled release from Fire Merchants begins with the track “Saladin”. On this track, the trio ventures into material that is so progressive that its sound is closer to Heavy Metal than it is to Rock and roll. The heaviness of the music comes from the intensity of Goddsall’s guitar. Plus, the rhythm section of Lunn and Thompson sound as if they are backing up a Heavy Metal guitarist instead of a jazz guitarist, or even a rock guitarist for that matter. The inclusion of guitar-triggered keyboards on the track ultimately makes the song sound like melodic Heavy Metal. “Saladin” is easily one of the best and hardest-hitting tracks on the entire release.

With the track “Hamsterdam,” Goodsall, Lunn and Thompson back off on the intensity that was present on “Saladin,” but only by a little. As a result, “Hamsterdam” feels more like instrumental Hard Rock, except that the screeching guitars from Goodsall still give the indication of a heavy Metal influence to the music. As the listener travels further and further into the track, it seems as if Goodsall, Lunn and Thompson are just creating an improvised jam. The loose feel of the song is one of the best elements of the track.

“Conflagration” is one track on the self-titled album from Fire Merchants that easily fits into the category of jazz fusion. The slower pace of the song and the lighter feel of the music take some of the intensity from the previous tracks away. The repeating musical phrasing found in the music of “Conflagration” also makes the track feel closer to jazz than the previous songs. Plus, the guitar-triggered keyboards that appear on the track are brighter and have been brought more to the forefront on this track. As the playing and composition is closer to jazz than the previous tracks, that jazz flavor also seems to influence the sound of Fire Merchants.

The album continues with the track “Tunnel Vision,” a track that features more jazz influence than anything that came before on the album. One this track, the trio seems to fully embrace the jazz element. If it hadn’t been for songs like “Saladin” that came before, the listener could easily consider Fire Merchants to be a straight-out jazz band on this track. The horns created through the keyboards that appear on the song add even more of that jazz element to the track.

After spending a few tracks exploring the jazz side of the musicians’ personalities, the intensity returns within the band’s sound on the track “Divisions”. And even though there is still some of that jazz pace and timing within the music, it is the intensity within the beat delivered by Chester Thompson and the heavy delivery of the guitars from John Goodsall that suggests that “Divisions” falls into the jazz fusion category instead of straight jazz.

It is with the track “Z104” that Fire Merchants brings the self-titled release to a close. Like many of the tracks on the release, the track “Z104” comes with a certain amount of intensity. The slow pace of the drums and bass is balanced by the playing of John Goodsall’s guitar. The slow beat and intense guitar create the perfect jazz fusion track. And the song makes for a perfect final song the record version of the release.

While the 1989 record version of the self-titled release from Fire Merchants comes to an end with the track “Z104,” the 1989 cassette version of the release included an extra track. The bonus track from the cassette is entitled “Black Forest”. It is unfortunate that “Black Forest” was chosen to be the bonus track on the cassette as it is one of the best tracks from the entire release. The track features all three musicians as they play off of each other. Throughout the track, guitarist Goodall and bassist Doug Lunn take turns playing lead and shaping the track. Ultimately, “Black Forest” comes across as a jazz track that could easily have been created by Frank Zappa. The seven-minute track brings the cassette version of the album to an end on a strong note.

Having been released back in 1989, the self-titled release from Fire Merchants ended up being one of the most overlooked albums from that year. However, as a way of celebrating the 25th anniversary of the album, Europe-based Gonzo Multimedia gave the album a proper re-release in 2014. Along with the original 11 cassette-release tracks from back in 1989, the 2014 re-release comes complete with two additional tracks of “Healing Dream” and “Nuclear Burn”. The newly-extended self-titled release from Fire Merchants is now even better at over one hour long and is begging to be heard.

To check out the music of Fire Merchants, check out the song “Saladin“.

For more information on the band’s PR firm, check out Gonzo Multimedia.  

To purchase a copy of the album, click on the album cover below:

FM Cover