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Published: 2013/12/20
by Brian Robbins

Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work
Live

Sound Lab Studios

Combine the ache of Hank Williams Sr. with the fire of Hank III, hammer it together with Joe Strummer’s conviction, and send it a’flyin’ with Tom Waits’ gutter-gospel preacher delivery: now you have a little bit of an idea of what Pierce Edens sounds like when he’s burrowed into a song and, in his words, “raisin’ a ruckus.”

And it ain’t just Edens raisin’ that ruckus on this here new Live album, boys and girls. Right alongside him are his co-conspirators The Dirty Work: Matt Smith playing the dog snot out of electric guitar and pedal steel; Jesse James Hongisto thumping the upright bass; and Dane Rand hammering out the big-assed beat. Plus there are some “special friends” on hand – Justin Ray on trumpet and saxophonist Jacob Rodriguez, along with Jim Aaron blowing the harmonica sad and sweet.

Put the whole works together and you have one wild and woolly blend of music that’s rough-and-tumble and lovely and raw and smart and real as the Appalachian Mountains where Edens grew up – and there’s an hour and a quarter of it on Live, just waiting to spin your head around.

The core band on this 13-song set is Rand, Hongisto, Edens, and Smith – basically, drums, bass, Edens on acoustic guitar, and Smith with whatever stringed weapon he chooses. To describe the lineup in words might sound limiting: the sound itself is anything but.

When Edens and The Dirty Work crank on the hoodoo, they can get as swampy as a John Fogerty nightmare (“Jailhouse”, “Mischief”). Or they can get all rockabilly reckless at the drop of a hat, barrel-assing along with the pedal flat to the floorboards and slapping the doors in time to the beat (“Money”, “Pretty”). Sometimes they slow it down and pull off a few minutes of honkytonk heartbreak that would be right at home on an old Mother’s Best Flour Show radio broadcast (listen to “Trouble” and give me another beer, barkeep); and sometimes they let fly with the kind of oomph and drama that would make even the folks in a stadium’s cheap seats flinch (“Montana”, “Ghost On The Radio”, “Can’t Sleep”).

Hongisto works every square inch of his big ol’ doghouse bass, laying down everything from Adam’s apple-bobbing ‘billy thumps to quasi-jazzbo loop-de-loops to straight-out rock romps – combining with Rand to get all sorts of rhythmic sceneries out of the most basic of hardware. Meanwhile, Edens’ acoustic guitar fluctuates between adding to a given song’s chugging rhythm, supplying mood colorings of its own, or simply offering bent back and cupped hands to give Smith’s electric guitar or pedal steel a boost into the air. And what about Smith? That’s a serious picker right there, capable of everything from Link Wray raunch to Brian Setzer-ish twang to whale noises from Venus. He can play it nasty; he can play it wild – but he never overplays anything.

Aaron’s harmonica appearances are tasteful and never too much (dig “Creeping Vines” – now that’s some fine mouth harp, right there); and when Rodriguez and Ray lend their horns to the mix, they flesh out the music’s colors nicely (case in point: the lurch of “Black Shiny Shoes”).

On top of it all are Edens’ vocals: all growl and bark and full of life and pain and stories and dreams and memories. The Waits comparison is an easy one, but there’s much, much more to Pierce Edens than a throat full of gravel. That’s only one color of a big palette: he’s the guy alongside you at the bar; in the pew; on the bus headed to somewhere – as believable as the words of his songs.

Live is a sweat-soaked document of what these players are capable of doing live and without a net below them. It really is quite a show.

*****

Brian Robbins raises a ruckus over at www.brian-robbins.com

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