The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Meat And Bone (Boombox/Mom + Pop)
Daddy Long Legs Evil Eye On You (Norton Records)
The blues ain’t dead, folks – I am here to tell you that.
More specifically, rockin’, stompin’, blues with a punk attitude ain’t dead – it’s rolling and tumbling and alive and kicking as we speak. Two recent examples of the beast’s healthy roar are the brand-new albums from veterans The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (JSBX) and newcomers Daddy Long Legs. In the former, we have a band whose guitar/drums/no-bass format set the standard for blues punks to follow over 20 years ago; meanwhile, Daddy Long Legs is a new band that sounds like it was recorded 20 years ago. Or 30. Or 40. Or more.
The black-and-white-with-spattered-red-ink packaging of JSBX’s Meat And Bone may be grislier, but Daddy Long Legs’ Evil Eye On You is rawer sonically. The album’s dozen tracks sound as if they were recorded from a basement stairwell as the band slammed away below – getting any closer would’ve only pegged all the meters into the overblown red zone. The resulting blues squall is as lo-fi dark and dank as you can get; it would be easy to imagine Evil Eye On You as some recently-unearthed long-lost session rather than a freshly-minted effort.
The trio is named for its frontman – the harp-blowing, blues-bellowing Daddy Long Legs hisself. Rather than doling out John Popperish zillion-and-a-half-notes-a-minute runs, Daddy (rumored to be Brian Hurd in a former life) tends to dig in and grind out meaty riffs that blur the line between lead and rhythm. Single notes are bent inside-out, stroked, milked, yanked, and rubbed; multi-reed blasts are chuffed, chugged, huffed, and humped into a sweaty root ball. When he’s not playing the harmonica (and sometimes while he is) Daddy Long Legs growls, yelps, barks, and wails. He’s a blues hollerer who blurs any definition by age or color – without sounding like an imitation of anyone or anything. This is simply pull-the-cord-and-let-the-snot-fly blues.
Daddy’s partners in crime are cut from the same sweat-and-whiskey-soaked cloth. Guitarist Murat Akturk cranks out everything from powerhouse country blues rhythms (think a young Johnny Cash chomping on a mouthful of speed) to slinky-assed multi-stringed slide riffs that bump and grind up against Daddy Long Legs’ harp. Drummer/percussionist Josh Styles keeps it simple and right on, sometimes locking in with his bandmates for a triple-punch deep-as-Hell-itself groove; other times head-down and leading the charge himself, slamming shovelfuls of coal into the beast.
The resulting gutsy, rocking blues spans the gamut from the churning romp of the opener “Death Train Blues” to the nasty hoodoo stomp of the title tune that closes things down. “Candy Sue” sounds like a vintage Omar And The Howlers tune with extra dollops of grease and growl; “Happy Home” is a study in making the tubes glow hot while taking it slow and easy; Styles and Akturk morph into one big beat machine on “Comin’ After Me”; and you can’t let “Thirty Days” roll without wanting to wiggle something.
Listen to Akturk working the slide on “Sittin’ Shotgun” or “You’ll Be Mine” – he’s so smooth, it’s easy to miss the coolness of what he’s laying down. And “Witch Hunt” is a minute-and-fifty-three-seconds’-worth of classic blues harp gospel as preached by the Right Reverend Long Legs against a pounding drumbeat. Yeah, you’ve heard players bring the train into the station before – but by the time Daddy Long Legs wrestles the thing to a halt, everyone’s covered in sweat.
Evil Eye On You was definitely not an attempt to domesticate the sound of Daddy Long Legs in a studio setting; the twelve cuts are wild and wooly and real. Infuse a few hisses and pops into the tracks and it would be easy to believe this music was recorded a few decades ago, but no – Daddy Long Legs is happening right now, boys and girls.
With their new Meat And Bone album The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion proves that while they don’t depend on studio tricks or gimmickry for their music (pure punkish blues rock), they definitely know how to twist the knobs when they have a mind to. Take “Black Mold” for instance – the lead cut off Meat And Bone. The band hasn’t much more than slam-bammed the tune into your ears when they decide to shwoop Russell Simins’ drums around at the 1:54 mark. The cymbals suck their sound back in; the bass drum explodes in reverse, slamming into silence – and all the while, Jon Spencer and Judah Bauer are still flat-to-the-floor in high gear, beating the tar out of their guitars. The driving wallop of the track remains intact; the slightly out-of-sync and definitely weird drum sound is unsettling, at the very least.
Welcome, Earthlings. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is back, nastier than ever.
While the trio of Spencer, Bauer, and Simins has a history that dates back to 1991, Meat And Bone marks their first new studio release in eight years. And in a sense, it feels like the band has been reborn: Meat And Bone is marinated in the sort of piss and vinegar you’d expect from a band just starting out and looking to knock the world on its ass. These are all prime cuts of JSBX.
Imagine Iggy Pop fronting the Faces and you’ll get a little bit of an idea of what “Bag Of Bones” sounds like (complete with cool blues harp from Bauer). “Bottle Baby” weaves passages of Steve Cropper-style licks with moments of back-alley chaos. “Boot Cut” is passing-lane rock ‘n’ roll, pure and simple; you’ll need a lyric sheet for “Bear Trap”, but who cares: it’s the weaving of Bauer and Spencer’s guitars that make it. “Danger” makes the Stones’ “Rip This Joint” sound low-energy; and “Get Your Pants Off” is a funky-butted groove workout by Simins, splashed with buckets of psychedelic colors by his bandmates.
The album-closing instrumental “Zimgar” is a perfect way to turn the lights out: the song eases off the line with a vibe that has a bit of “Are You Experienced?”-flavor to it, flecked with dashes of tasty curry powder. As it approaches the halfway point, there’s an abrupt change in scenery – a moment of carnival lights and whoop-de-doo – before the band rolls up their sleeves and takes the tune home with a vibe that vacillates betwixt simmer and sizzle. As “Zimgar” grinds to a halt, the last thing we hear before the fade sounds like the crash of a reverb tank – a noise players have been making since there were reverb units to thump.
21 years into it – and after a six-year performance/eight-year recording layoff – The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has landed the best album of their career. Grab you some Meat And Bone.