Gonzales - Checkmate (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Checkmate (2008)

Chorus of One

Contrary to the undiscerning robots of Last.fm, Gonzales is not "a Canadian multi-talented musician known for his MC and electro albums (i.e. "The Entertainist" and "Presidential Suite") and his comical live shows, is able to play the piano, guitar, bass, drums and various brass instruments and [who] in the 1990s, was the leader of the alternative rock band Son before embarking on his solo career." This Gonzales is a mildly Bronx-y punk-n-roll quartet from Italy.

Checkmate is a fluid, ten-song, 30-minute blast of really fast rock and roll, southernized slightly (where the faint Bronx comparisons come in) but whipping by with almost a skatepunk propensity. Either Markey Moon or Mark Simon Hell (whoever is doing the majority of the guitar solos on this album) is ridiculously good and saves this album from the threat of mediocrity. Even though the Italian accents and awkwardly pronounced vocals tend to get in the way, the semi-distorted tone and production/mixing help effectively cover it up. There's no lyrics in the included booklet (only thanks, contact info, and production notes) but with songs titled "Kiss the Sky," "Go to Hell" and "Nothing to Lose," it's safe to say Gonzales isn't betting the ranch on their songwriting ingenuity. What they do succeed in is crafting numbers that utilize the soaring solos of the aforementioned guitar. Their cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" isn't bad (probably the best cut on the CD), but besides being beaten to the punch by Social Distortion by nearly 20 years, the concept of an Italian punk band trying their hand at Johnny Cash is executed at the same level it looks on paper. The album-ender "My Son" is the band at their most minimalist, slowing down the tempo, focusing on the riff and building a gang vocal effort that doesn't rely as heavily on fierce guitar playing but still works.

However, the band's clear competitive advantage comes in the form of balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n' roll led by impressive guitar work, which thankfully is in no short supply on Checkmate.