You just can’t not call Natural Child “stoner rock.” And from the muddled opening notes of “Easy Street” to its first chorus — which features the lyric “Let me get that stoned” — to the gurgling of a bong rip signaling the end of the track, 1971 is a tribute to smokin’ grass. In concept and in execution, 1971 feels like ... well, 1971. And while the charmingly under-rehearsed psych-folk sing-along “Woman C'mon” was likely conceived in a thick cloud of Purple Haze, there’s more to this record than just that.
No, 1971 doesn’t exhibit the sheer epic splendor of stoner-rock founding fathers like Iron Butterfly or Blue Cheer. But the three key elements remain in spades: blues, rock and psychedelia. What’s more, the synchronized riffs and transfixing kraut-rock beat of “Hard Workin’ Man” (think Can or Neu!) are more lucid than you’d expect from the same crew of dudes that sings, “Cut your bullshit, son, and let’s get high.” Also, are those the faint but dulcet sounds of a glockenspiel matching the guitar riff on “Hard Workin’ Man”? Because it certainly sounds like it.
And while Natural Child could loosely be lumped in with other regional psychedelia-ensconced garage-rock acts — Black Lips, Turbo Fruits, Howlies, et al. — they’re more directly and unabashedly influenced by champions of the riff: Sabbath, Deep Purple ... hell, maybe even a little bit of Grand Funk Railroad. Mostly, though, it’s nods to Exile- and Let It Bleed-era Stones — I mean, they have a tune called “Let It Bleed” that isn’t a cover of the Stones song — that inform Natural Child’s shambolic, white-boy blues. (Speaking of which, there’s also an incredibly self-aware tune here called “White People” that just might elicit a chuckle from self-aware Caucasians and non-Caucasians alike.)
How tongue-in-cheek is 1971 intended to be? It isn’t exactly clear. These boys are quite obviously fans of the cannabis leaf, but — while perhaps the joke is on us — sometimes baked-out grooves and too-cool indifference make for just the sort of ride we’re looking to take. After all, that’s exactly what we expect from 1971.