11 November 2014


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Toska - noun /ˈtō-skə/ - Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness.

"No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.” ― Vladimir Nabokov

   Florence, Alabama's Red Mouth (aka Eric Gebhardt) makes highly personal music, at once mysterious and otherworldly, and yet deeply rooted in the secular red clay roads of north Alabama, the same clay that got stomped through the hallowed halls and rubbed in to the carpets of Muscle Shoals recording studios back in the day.

   It's personal music in the way that the music of Jim WhiteJim Ford, Boss Waits, Cap'n Beefheart, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Screaming Lord Sutch, Iggy's Stooges, old man Cave, Johnny Dowd, and  Gordon Gano's Violent Femmes music is personal, yet organically familiar. It's old timey music made today, made modern, but with none of the pretension of some current day songsters.   
    Toska is some original, strongass, yet beautifully, thoughtfully, sensuously fucked up folk music that should be heard by folks who think folk music is weak. Red Mouth will show them the error of their ears as he dances nimbly, soulfully, madly, across time and space with the dirty old bones of American roots music, doing the old soft-shoe across the sand, mud, and blues of country and early pop music, the gristled bones of rock n' roll, kicking 'em into place, into totems, in to cleavers, into hat tricks, into red words on rice paper, in to chickenbone and velvet, casket and rum. 

    The crack of a powder keg in the distance, the swing of an arm, the rustle of the bulrush in the river, the skim of her dress across the
wooden waxed dance floor.  The sound of motorcycle wheels on gravel roads down 'round, "Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama," crossing the Carolina's on Bone Camp Road, and ending up all the way to hell and back and central Florida on a long gone fast train, past the stars shining down on a holler for help in the Ocala woods at night.

      Homemade murder ballads are shorn into hoedowns, brambled east Texas big band dresses like a wolf in a straw boater. Muscle Shoals soul gets its heart broke by Randy Newman's piano, and Rickie Lee and Tom have a date night at a midnight showing of The Forbidden Zone.  

   A high lonesome call is made by translator to unknown lands, and Johanna's in on it. All of it. From the gospel to the get-go, the knock-down to the drag out.

Recording With The Legendary Donnie Fritts
   Each song on Toska is a piece of the whole, standing alone by the side of a country road, but with plenty more of 'em in the woods close by...listen...in the rustle of the leaves, its breath...on the back of your neck just below your ear. Toska is also exceptional listening music. It's terrific (in the true sense of the word) on the headphones, even better when its Twin Peaks boogies are played good and loud.

   Red Mouth has released his masterpiece thus far, with Toska. A wholly original style-jumper who's comfortable with most any southern folk music forms, it may seem like he's bitten off more than he can chew at times, but no. He hasn't. You have.

   In a more patient and thoughtful music world Toska would rank high on a lot of Best lists this year. If I believed in art contests it'd rank high on mine, too. But some things are too important to rank. Toska is one of them.

29 October 2014

OLD GRAY MULE Have An Amazing New Album Out Now Called HAVE MERCY!

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   Old Gray Mule's Have Mercy is an absolutely brilliant statement on the state of post-Junior Kimbrough, post-R.L. Burnside, Paul "Wine" Jones, and Post-T-Model Ford-style alt-blues, or whatever it's called. It's got all you need: Texas guitarist meets Mississippi drummer and clicks hard with North Mississippi Hill Country grooves packed with south of Austin soul-stylistics, and plenty of central Texas grit. It sets a high bar for everyone involved in this kind of music, not just in its musicianship, which is outstanding, but for its sonic construction as well. You'll want to listen to this on headphones just as loud as you will on the big speakers. Out in your yard. With all your family, friends, and neighbors. There'll be mas Cerveza, plenty of barbeque, and whiskey for those who need it. This is the year of the Old Gray Mule party y'all!

^Have Mercy sounds like this^
I contacted OGM's OG, C.R. Humphrey to talk about the new work:

DB (Rick Saunders) :: Tell me about your ideas, thoughts, influences for the way you approached recording Have Mercy...sonically. It sounds fantastic on headphones, and just as killer blasting from the speakers (and it sounds great played quietly, too.) I dig the trippyness of the production on the song Have Mercy. The vocals in particular are something else, particularly considering your history as an instrumental unit. I'm also interested in your ideas behind the re-do/update of Son House's Don't You Mind People Grinning In Your Face. That song, as amazing as it is, is such a blues classic now. How'd you manage to make it so fresh? And who the hell's doing vocals on Stop Playin'? Is that JJ? 'Cause DAMN.

C.R. Humphrey:: Ha! Well, I guess I didn't realize it was the new Mustang Sally!  I'd only ever heard one band do it live, and that was Meredith Kimbrough (who sang on No Sleep Til Memphis) and her band Mother Merey and the Black Dirt. They did an acapella version that had that work song feel to it at a show we all played together in Austin and for some reason it always stuck with me. So I worked up my version of it and tried to put that work song feel into it as well, with that foot stomp/hand clap beat, unison singing, slower pace...all that shit. And yeah man that's JJ on Stop Playin. As the sessions progressed, you could hear his confidence level in his vocals rise, it was awesome.

Sonic approach -
   What I was shooting for with these records was a kind of "brand new old school" sort of sensibility if that makes any sense? We did our best to keep it raw where it needed to be raw, yet add more modern production to the atmospheric trippy tunes. Probably the best example I can think of is Don't You Mind where we started with a field hollar vibe with the unison vocals and handclaps, but with the guitar and more modern drum beats accompanying. That's something we're going to explore further on the next record...that foot-stomp/hand-clap vocal heavy stuff. Nothing closer to The Source than that.

   As for the studio, it's KNOWN for hip-hop, metal, and gospel. Matter of fact I think it was the second or third session for these albums...Lil Wayne tried to get our studio time, but we had lockout and the studio owner stuck by us, so LW had to wait. But the pedigree of the place was pretty damn good...Lil Wayne, Master P, Lil Boosie, all those NOLA rappers had recorded there, Down, Crowbar, Corrosion Of Conformity, all those southern metal guys had recorded there..hell Phil Anselmo broke the sink off the wall shagging a girl in the bathroom when Down was recording NOLA. Our engineer recorded RL Burnside at some point as well. Add that to the fact that the effects of Katrina on the exterior of the building were still visible...the place had a vibe for sure.

- Vocals
   Prior to these albums, I hated singing and I only did it when I had to. JJ had always been a side man too, I mean he sang in church, but I don't think he'd ever been the front man until we recorded My Lyin Ass on No Sleep Til Memphis. What we discovered at the second session was that we sounded good when we sang together. Not only that but singing in unison gave us more confidence and somebody to hide behind if you know what I mean? Which of course leads to better singing. JJ was singing along with the studio roughs every time we were in the car getting better and better and better. Vocals are still our weakest point, I feel, but having the time to work on it during these sessions was invaluable.

DB:: I disagree on the vocals. I mean, I can see your point, but you're wrong ;0)  They're terrific. You've gone thru a couple drummers in your career as Old Gray Mule, but you and JJ are a very tight unit, and you became that way in a pretty short amount of time when you think of the actual amount of time you've spent together, with him in Louisiana and you in Texas.

How did you guys get together? Also, if you would, tell us about your guitar set up. I believe someone just made you a cigarbox guitar?

CR: I got to know JJ because of: a hot Latina, some big dogs, and some BIG damn snakes!

   JJ was playing drums for Lightnin Malcolm a couple years back, and we were all playing a show at Antone's up in Austin together. Malcolm was staying with friends in Austin, but they had dogs and big ass snakes...so JJ said fuck THAT and told Malcolm he'd sleep in the truck. So when I got there to hang out pre-show, Malcolm asked if J could stay at my house and I said of course. JJ ended up staying with us for 3-4 days and my kids adopted him on day 1...by the time he left he was family. That weekend he was here we recorded Blue Front and Break For Me which were on the Like A Apple On A Tree album. We played together about 5 minutes here at the house, then went to the studio and laid down those two tracks in about 15 minutes. Then almost a year later we played an all night yard party on the Friday night of the juke joint festival in Clarksdale, MS with no rehearsal, just those 20 minutes of playing together the year before. Then we played Shack Up all damn night Saturday night with Lightnin, and again on Sunday. And that's the way it went until we started recording these albums...the gigs WERE the rehearsal.

   We just fit naturally, he understands what I'm saying when I'm playing guitar, and I understand what he's saying on the drums so we can modify songs on the fly depending on what the crowd is into with damn little verbal communication. The only other drummer I was able to do that with was Cedric that night we played Antone's as a duo. It's very stress-free playing

   Yes, I did just get a cigarbox guitar. My first one. A fan in England named Paul Smith (Stompin Hogg cigar box guitars) made it for me and it's badass. It took some getting used to because the body is so small, but it's fun to play. I mess around on it every day or so.

   For my live guitar setup...
I use two guitars, a 5 string tuned to Open F, and a six string tuned to D Standard which I also re-tune to Open D or Open G if we're headlining or playing a longer opening set and have the time. If we're supporting then it's just Open F and D Standard. On these albums I used a bunch of different guitars and amps and pedals...not really tone chasing, but trying to make myself a little uncomfortable so I'd concentrate more and hopefully that would generate a tighter performance. I feel like it worked, but how y'all feel about it is what really matters.

   One sort of goofy thing we used that I'd never tried before was an old 70's Fender PA head through a Marshall cabinet. That thing is on almost all the songs along with either my Bassman Ten, a friend's 410 Fender De Ville, an old Deluxe, I think I dusted off my old Twin and brought it down one time...regardless there are two guitar amps on every song, and if we doubled the guitar tracks I'd play a separate guitar and amp combo so it would SOUND like two guitars not just the same tone doubled up. Never doubled tracks before, but it was a lot of fun. Guitar-wise most of it is Telecasters of one stripe or another...the main one being a stock '74. Hump Night 55 was an old played-out 64 Fender Jaguar that the label owner had literally played the frets off back in his punk days in the 70's. Kimbro Style was an Epiphone hollowbody with 3 P90's. Edge Of My Head was the Strat I got back in high school that I put the electronics from a Gibson L6S into. Front Porch was a 1921 Gibson L4 I was allowed to borrow for that track and holy crap that thing sounded good.

DB:: You're going back to Australia next year. What's with you and Australia, and does your wife know about this? How many times have you played there now, and how'd it get started with Australia? Did she buy you a Foster's late one night in Austin, and next thing you know....?

CR::  The Australia love affair...yep Molly knows, we've had Aussies at our house several times a year every year since the first tour. Our first three albums were released on an indie label from Adelaide, and they helped get us (me and CW Ayon) down there for the Backwater Blues Festival in 2011 and toured with Chris Russell's Chicken Walk.

   We (me and JJ Wilburn) went back down in 2013 to play the Wangaratta Jazz Festival then toured with Chris Russell's Chicken Walk. This Feb we (me and JJ) are returning to tour with The Backsliders which is Dom Turner on guitar and vocals, Rob Hirch (from Midnight Oil) on drums/percussion, and Ian Collard on harmonica. They're world class musicians in their own right and I believe all of them are in 5-6 bands and we can't friggin wait to head down under again. We're returning to Australia again next year in May as well as New Zealand to play some dates and a festival I'm not allowed to divulge the name of yet. We've played Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania so far, and will be adding Queensland and possibly Western Australia next year.

DB:: That's a good way to get some serious frequent flyer miles!

What about a tour of the states? Any plans?
I'd love to see y'all and i'm sure a lot of other folks would too.

CR::  Man. There is nothing I'd love more than to tour in the US, the problem with that is I flat can't afford it. Molly got laid off last year, we're both scrambling to tread water financially, plus we've got the kids to feed and clothe and house...so the only way we can tour the US is to be paid, and unfortunately that requires us being at a level where there is a demand that would support us. So far that demand has been in Australia. We're hoping these albums will create that demand, so we can hit the road closer to home

DB:: I wonder if you've done any research on the number of bands having their mom on the album? Your's happens to rock a didgeridoo on one track. Did it just hit you, Oh Crap! That song (Edge Of My Head) needs a didgeridoo? Who do we know...?

CR:: Haaaa! Nope, the didge thing is something we've done for years. Back when we were playing TC's Lounge every Friday night Mom would come do that same tune with us I think the idea came about because she had a didge in D and that tune was the only one we were doing at the time that the didge didn't muddy up the sound, so we've been doing it ever since. Adding that track was a tip of the hat to our Oz folks.

DB:: Your comment about tipping your hat to Albert Collins on Stop Playin made me think about all the other hat tipping that goes on not just on this recording and the forthcoming Hump Night 55, but throughout your catalog. Why is that so important to you?

CR:: We tip our hats to the folks who came before us on every album because we didn't invent this shit, and I want people to know who inspired us. Also, I get excited to be able to record the songs that got me fired up to play music in the first place. There are some very unique styles that seem to have passed on with the folks who played them. We lost T-Model Ford last year for example, and there are maybe three people I've ever heard who can get close to his style. As for Stop Playin, to me nobody was better at a 12 bar slow blues than Albert Collins. Now, I sure am not anywhere near the master that he was, but I feel like we captured a close approximation of an Albert Collins slow blues with Stop Playin. The horns helped with that, and having Buckwheat Zydeco on that tune also allowed me to tip my hat to Clifton Chenier. That song also has some Albert King in there, some T-Bone Walker in there, and I suppose there's some CR Humphrey in there too...and I like all those guys, and I have felt joy because of all those guy's music.

DB:: I think a lot of people will feel joy in this album, as well as heartache, pain, and just plain ol' happiness too. They'll get that from from the storys, the songs, from the music, and from the fact that Old Gray Mule and Have Mercy have confirmed that blues music is far from dead. It is alive, kickin', growing and evolving.

   I've been writing about Old Gray Mule for years now, and have watched Charlie Humphrey grow this thing from from a guy recording instrumental blues in a tiny studio in Lockhart, Texas, playing with pick-up and semi-permanent drummers (cheers CW!), to playing with an exceptional drummer and singer, to a guy that someone finally gave a chance, a (financial) break to prove himself, prove what he could do with his blues, and what could be done with blues...and he took that chance and ran to a full moon over New Orleans with it.

   Old Gray Mule has made a pair of exceptional albums in Have Mercy and the forthcoming collection Hump Night 55. I've asked you to go buy albums, to give bands your money, and i'm not gonna ask that with this album. I'm gonna beg you. If you love the music I write about please, Please, Please baby, PLEASE! Buy this album. You will thank me.
Please go HERE.

**************   ******************   ***************    **************   ***********
   In addition to this interview, I asked CR to write me up a sort of Cliff's Notes of the sessions for this Have Mercy, and for the forthcoming piece delightfully entitled Hump Night 55. Here's what's up with that:

   2013 was a hell of a year. The bad luck started when the engineer on "No Sleep Til Memphis" had a complete mental break and disappeared with my album and my money. A very short time later several folks I had worked with fighting wildfires were killed, followed by Molly getting laid off, then an old friend being killed by a drunk driver, and finally our Australian tour which I was now hoping would pay rent and groceries through the winter had more than it's fair share of Spinal Tap moments. So, by Christmas I was depressed, heart-sore, tired, and ready to stop playing music professionally for a very long while. For real.

   Then between Christmas and New Year's Eve, the phone rang and the voice on the other end said, "Hey, I just booked some time at a studio here in New Orleans, do you want to come down and record an album?"

   Heavy sigh, "……sure" I said.

   That phone call launched six months of miracles, and both albums. From January to June 2014, I was commuting between my home in Lockhart TX, Cash Munkey Records headquarters in Covington LA, and Festival Studios in Kenner, LA (out by the New Orleans airport). Every morning JJ and I would cross Lake Pontchartrain and head into the city to record. We would lunch at Subway, dinner at Bud's Broiler on Veteran's Ave, and sometime after midnight we'd hop in the car to drive across the 27 mile long Pontchartrain causeway and listen to that day's sessions on the CD player.

   We went into the studio in January with a list of songs and riffs we wanted to work on, but no real idea of what we could do with them in terms of arrangements or guest musicians because this was the first time JJ and I were recording together with real support and time to develop songs and arrangements beyond our live two-man set up. In the past, we'd always recorded as quickly and as cheaply as possible because we both suffer from Chronic Brokeness. Once we'd finished recording the rhythm sections and figuring out which songs were gong to work and which still needed some development, we started contacting friends and heroes to see if they'd be interested in adding something to our music. It was very flattering that every person we invited…accepted.

Buckwheat Zydeco 

   The KANG of Zydeco! A living legend, Grammy award winner, and one of my personal music heroes since I was 13 when I first heard his music in the movie The Big Easy. Having him on this album is one of the miracles. We caught him at the perfect time; he got home from tour on a Friday, and was leaving to go out on the road again the following Tuesday…but was free that Sunday to record. He and his son Reggie came down from Carencro, LA after lunch on Sunday. We all got to know each other a little bit, and then we played him the three tracks we thought he might be interested in playing on. To my surprise when we played Stop Playin over the monitors, he said "Man! That sounds like Albert Collins!" I jumped up and shook his hand, laughing, and told him I was tipping my hat to Albert Collins because he's my favorite guitar player from Texas, and folks seemed to have forgotten him a little bit. Turned out Buck and Reggie had toured quite a bit with Albert, and had considered him to be family, so Buck decided he'd tip his hat to Mr Collins right along with us. He played understated, subtle accompaniment and when he finished his first take he asked, "Did yall get that?" We said yes, and he replied "Thank you Jesus!" It is an absolute honor to have him on the album…even more so because he played on a song that was in tribute to his close friend.

Rockin Dopsie Jr and Anthony Dopsie

   The Saturday before Buckwheat came down, we had Rockin Dopsie Jr and his brother Anthony Dopsie come in to add some heat to our song Ass On Fire. Anthony came in from Lafayette, and RDJr came in from New Orleans. Ass On Fire is my attempt to capture the energy and happy vibe of the zydeco music I had heard when I lived in Lake Charles, LA back in the 90's. When he first got to the studio, Anthony pulled out his Roland digital accordion, started warming up…but when we played the track for him, he got this excited look on his face and he said, "Oooooooh! Yall are going old school!" So he tok off the Roland and brought out his old school three row button accordion and immediately started tearing the place apart! We got three takes out of him and when he was finished, he was dripping sweat! When you hear the song you'll know why. Just as we were listening to the playback in the control room we heard a holler, "SOMEbody's zydeco'n in here!" We all turned and there was Rockin Dopsie Jr with his vest frottoir. He ran upstairs and laid down two tracks of washboard, and by the time he got back downstairs into the control room with us, it was a damn party yall! It's the highest energy track we've ever recorded, and these two men brought some SERIOUS pepper to what we had cookin! Having them on this album is another miracle.

Chris Parkinson

Back in 2010, I somehow stumbled across an Australian duo called The Yearlings. I was immediately struck by the atmospheric, laid back, subtle guitar played by Chris Parkinson. In 2011 we toured Australia for the first time, and on the only day off we had, I happened to be in Adelaide and was able to scrounge a ride down to McLaren Vale with the lady who was running our sound to go to Red Poles to chill, have lunch, and listen to The Yearlings. Chris and Robyn came over to our table on their break and we all got to know one another, and swap CDs. When we returned to Australia in 2013, I invited Chris to sit in with us at a show in Adelaide, and while he had never heard our song Have Mercy before, he blew me away with his playing. He was always right there in the pocket, adding atmosphere, harmony lines…it was incredible. Once we recorded Have Mercy and got the vocals finished in New Orleans, I sent Chris a studio rough and asked if he'd be willing to play on it. He responded by recording two tracks on two different guitars through two different amps and playing slide on one of those tracks. Those tracks were so damn good we're releasing an instrumental version of Have Mercy, on our vinyl companion to this album entitled Hump Night 55, and having him on this album is one of those miracles I'm very grateful.

Dom Turner

We met Dom at the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival in November 2013, and immediately hit it off. We played before his band The Backsliders on the Friday night of the festival, and we played again with him on Saturday night when he was part of a Muddy Waters Tribute. That Saturday night I asked if he'd be interested in sitting in with us, Jeff Lang, Ian Collard, and Snooks La Vie on an improvised John Lee Hooker inspired slow blues. He said, "Absolutely!" and rocked the place with his 4 pickup Teisco guitar and bottleneck slide. Dom has recorded so much music with so many people in so many different styles that, to me, he's like the Aussie Ry Cooder, so I asked him early on in this project if he'd like to play on a track or two, and as luck would have it…he and his wife Ida were going to be vacationing in New Orleans while we were recording. We actually performed a live streaming show for our Aussie fans from the studio while he was in town and two songs from that show are featured on the vinyl album we are releasing alongside this one, Hump Night 55. On this album his slide is featured on the acoustic tune, Front Porch. Again, a masterful, understated, subtle player and we were very fortunate and grateful to have him on board. Another miracle yall.

Jonathan Backrach

This was the voice on the phone asking if we wanted to come down to New Orleans to record an album…aka: "Monkey", aka: Cash Munkey Records. Without this man's enthusiasm and support there would be no Old Gray Mule. I would have hung up my guitar and strapped on an airplane again and headed back out to fight fires. He housed us, fed us, played bass with us, and made it all happen.

Chris Humphrey

My Mom and one of the chief enablers slash reasons I've stuck with music all these years. It was an absolute thrill to FINALLY record something we'd played together ever since the every Friday night at TC's days years ago. She came to NOLA with me and recorded some didgeridoo as bass on one of the tracks.


- first time I've ever soloed on my own album

- first time we've ever had a Grammy award winner play with us

- first time we've doubled guitars

- first time we've ever had a bass line played by someone other than myself (Monkey on Stop Playin, and Mom on Edge Of My Head)

- first albums to be digitally distributed since 40 Nickels back in 2011

- first time JJ and I have ever sung together

and most importantly...

- first time we've EVER HAD SUPPORT--

DB:: Thanks to CR Humphrey and JJ Wilburn aka Old Gray Mule for their hard work, for taking the time to do this interview with me, and to Cash Munkey Records for having the forsight to support them.

Old Gray Mule live at The Spotted Mallard, Melbourne VIC, Nov 4, 2013 from CR Humphrey on Vimeo.

Old Gray Mule live in Australia from CR Humphrey on Vimeo.

01 October 2014


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 I havn't been writing about much of anybody lately. It's been a few months. I admit it, I'm about half-lazy, and sometimes I wonder if people bother to read blogs anymore, or if they even care about the dirty olde modern-fashioned blues. Do you?

  But recently a guy that I respect a lot asked me if I was still writing this blog, as he hadn't seen it in his feed in awhile. Hell, I didn't even know he read the thing. Well, that was almost the poke in the ribs I needed to get to key-stabbing again. But not quite.

  You know, I've been doing this blog (and the previous website) for over ten-some years now, and I go through phases and stages. Sometimes I love it, and I try and post every day. I know that if nobody reads this but the artists, at least they'll know one person in the world digs them, and that can be just enough for them and me to keep going.

  But then after awhile I started to hate it, I didn't see the point, and I wondered if anybody would give a good nickel-plated damn if I just let the thing (all 800 plus posts on this blog about bands you've never heard of, and another half as many on my other blog)...just lay fallow. Not to be whiney, but it's a serious lot of work.

  Then as always, something really damn special comes in my mailbox, some little savior package, and turns it me right around, and puts me back on the rock.

Photo by Bruno Charoy 
  In this case that special package was Bror Gunnar Jansson's dark, brilliant, and haunting Moan Snake Moan.

  Jansson, aka Gugges Enmanna, a striking twenty-seven-year-old from Gothenburg, Sweden is a one-man band that isn't afraid to step out of the expected limitations of that role and add other instrumentation, from strings to saxophone, from other drummers and percussionists, or to engage in the art of studio foreplay, of solid knob twerking, as long as it serves the song. The sonic elements and textures of Tom Waits, David Eugene Edwards work with 16 Horsepower and Woven Hand, and White Stripes mesh with the rough boogie of Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker, and Howlin' Wolf to form a fresh blues vibe, just as menacing as the old, just as heavy as the new. It's unprecious, anti-antique blues. Jansson knows his roots, and has no need to obsess or genuflect over them. They're the bones, he's the bread and marrow.

  Released this year by the taseful french label Normandeep Blues, Moan Snake Moan is an outstanding collection of alt-blues, and propagated roots that evolve and seep, roar and weep, and remind you that the next time someone tells you the blues and its permutations are tired and gone, you can tell them to shut it and listen to this. An absolutely brilliant album.

  Here's a track by track examination, but first let us pray we may set the tone of Moan Snake Moan:

Isaiah 13:10 - For the stars of heaven and the constellations there of shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.

Isaiah 50:3 - "I clothe the heavens with blackness And make sackcloth their covering."

They say Lucifer was the cutest boy in heaven."
- Unknown

1. The Church Bell Tone -
   A hard classic one-man blues stomp and whomp, rife with the sonic symbolism of church, death, gospel...the evil rock, the unholy roll. All of it held together by the soft, warm hand of Satan's siren, aka the saxophone. All wailing and cruel destruction for we who cross its black iced and boogie-strewn path.

2. Moan Snake Moan Pt. 1 -
  Whoooa! Who been here baby, since I been gone? 

     On a still, sticky September day, I payed honor and obeisance at the tombside of the Cresent City voodoo woman. A
s I lit a candle, a bible placed by one unknown at the base of her marble grave lay open to the fortieth Psalm, its thin redlined and rice-like parchment papers fluttered by a suddenly chill wind to the one-hundred and fiftieth Psalm. True story.

3. William Is Back -
  Back from where? The dead? Everything ain't right. Frailed banjer, bass drum of the last days, a fist-like tension locked...in...hard. Bror knows from creepy.

4. One For Earth -
  A doomy, droney, sludgy slag pile of blues to honor the doomy, droney, sludgy slag pile that is the band Earth. But sexier on a 3:34AM drunk than it has a right to be. The soundtrack to the next Papa Legba that stands at a crossroads. Waiting.

5. He Had a Knife In His Hand -
  Ahhhhh...blues. I know 'em when I hears 'em.

6. Ain't No Grave -
   Brother Claude Ely's classic raw gospel chestnut done correct.

7. New Mountain Ballad No. 1 -
    Creepy gorgeousity with strings. I have no doubt that one of my fave bands Brighton's Mudlow is jealous that they didn't write this first. That's a compliment.

8. TV -
  Klanketyassed processed blues gets its konk fixed tight in our post-Black Key's kitchen.

9. Butch -
  A lonesome howler replete with blood stains, as told by Butch, that just might leave you crippled, just might leave you blind. He's back. Don't get up.

10. God Have Mercy -
  AC/DC-ized gospel brawler pleads for forgiveness, which is unforthcoming. Heavy as fuck, sacred as metal. Staggeringly glorious, like a sanctified striptease.

16 July 2014

What Kind Of Shit Is This? BOO BOO DAViS Meets Funky Scientists Blu Acid In A Digital Juke

@ fB // Black and Tan Records // Blue Acid // iTunes // Amazon

Jan Mittendorp and Misha den Haring, the recordists who comprise Blu Acid are reimagining the footsteps of Fat Possum's R.L. Burnside remixes while linking arms with the 1969 release The Howlin' Wolf Album, that mixed Wolf's tough, slanky blues with psych rock (even winking at the album title) to build a sound under Mr. Davis that is at once natural, modern, smart, and sexy.

Blu Acid say that when Boo Boo Davis walked into the studio and first heard what they'd done with his vocals and harp he said, "What kind of shit is this?" hence, the album title. I hope they answered, "Mr. Davis, this is the good shit."

What Kind Of Shit Is This? was recorded separately from Boo Boo Davis, just as the F.P. Burnside remixes were done. But unlike the wide-open, blues society disturbing, let's drag the blues into the future and make that funky shit into art...ness...of the Fat Possum mixes, Blu Acid takes the same junque that makes the Burnside stuff rule, and gives it a tough, raw, and live recording vibe, then a buff and wax polish with Massive Attack-like futurist roots tastefulness.

Purists can clutch at their pearls and pout about wether or not this is blues, or wether it serves the blues, or bastardizes it, even. Me? I don't I don't care. You shouldn't either. Any genre that remains stagnant dies. Music always evolves, always, just as you should. What Blu Acid have done, with the blessing of Boo Boo Davis is to make an excellent collection (actually an album) of kustom, modern, electronic, country blues that will serve to keep the sound alive. What Kind Of Shit Is This?should be bumpin' out of your car all summer and keeping you warm in the winter. Essential.

Note: This is also available on colored vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, at a limited edition of five-hundred copies.

06 June 2014

GRAVEL ROAD Get Wickedly Weird With The Bloody Scalp Of Burt Merlin.

@ Web // Fb // Knick Knack Records

Wait...this is the same band that used to backup T-Model Ford? I'm listening to their new album The Bloody Scalp of Burt Merlin. These guys are a bunch of weirdos. 

Formerly making their own north Mississippi hill country blues originals when they weren't recording and touring with Mr. Ford. Gravelroads' The Bloody Scalp of Burt Merlin is a full-on pour everything we've learned in the last ten years in to a heavy, blues-based, funky psychedlica freak-out of an album. They admit that. And I'll admit that it took me a while to get in to it. It came out in 2013 and i've had it floating around my desk since then. I don't know what my problem was. It's not like I was listening to it everyday, but when I did I was frankly...rather surprised.

GravelRoad always rocked out what they do, but this...this was like being used to listening to Hendrix with King Curtis's band, and then all of a sudden Jimi is experienced.
And don't get all excited, purists. I'm not equating one with the other, but one would hardly exist now if not for the latter.

We've been witnessing the punkrockinazation of a tiny corner of blues musics for years, and GR has come out with the result. It's a beast that swagger's down low, dragging it's tail through the sap and the mud of north Mississippi 
on a moon-lit midnight, it's bare feet floating above the ground. It's held there by Jim Diamond's thoughtfully heavy, and sonically textured leash. It's fuzzed out lo-fi flourishes bring soul, and a '70s-aware human touch. Diamond knows his rock and how to get it, and Gravelroad is a band that brings it. From the nearly eight-minute stone-out called Space, to the nearly one-minute superpunkrevue of Med Pass, to the levee-breaking monster-stomp of Bottom Of The World, if you are a fan this album might challenge what you thought you knew about this band, but it will thrill the pants off/of new fans.

I don't know what the story is on this Burt Merlin guy, or the why and where for of his bloody scalp, or why there's a brain on the cover of the album...I assume it's all tied together...but I do know whatever it is it made Gravelroad make the best and most original album of their career thus far. Damn I love weirdos.

28 May 2014

JONNY HALiFAX and The Howling Truth gets down on The Bestial Floor

@ fb // web // greasy noise records // itunes // amazon

Down on The Bestial Floor is where Jonny Halifax (tafka Honkeyfinger) cyphers the oxideized elements of Beefheart, Howlin' Wolf, Mr. & Mrs. Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sabbath, James Blood Ulmer, Elmore, Melvins, R.L., Junior, T-Model, Elvis n' them, Funkadelic, Johnny Dowd, ZZ Top, Yoko ... I could go on but yeah, you get it. He's kickin' the envelope's ass, delivering a sonic palate cleansing. He's rocking hip-deep in funking greasy noise and dirty rock, while reaching past the roots and through the stars for far, far outer space. Especially in your headphones. And that's what we like. Halifax composes deconstructed, imploding future blues with a strong base in the '70s tradition of getting down, infused with modern heavy sonic weirdness.

I've told you before about Honkeyfinger. A number of times over the past five years'ish. Every release has been tensile strong, both musically and design-wise. He's done 180 gram singles...slabs of his own savage one-man lap-steel and bass drum band, always terrifically stylish and heavy, and wonderfully weird. Check out the video for his first ever track. I've scared more than a few people with this ;0)

Jonny Halifax does just what he did as Honkeyfinger, but it's five-years new and improved, more melodic yet more primitive, too. It's large economy-sized. The sonic landscape has been expanded with new textures, new dirt, more outward creep.  It's a dense listen at times, commanding eminent domain, but if you take it in chunks you'll find something wild, some heavy country, something outer-blues-metal-funk of the mind and booty.

I did a fb message interview w/Jonny Halifax. Here's what's up::

DeepBlues:: It's been five years since the Honkeyfinger album Invocation Of The Demon Other (which btw is a wonderful title.) What have you been up to, Jonny Halifax?

Jonny Halifax:: Yes! Feels like a lifetime of sorts. In fact it is - My daughter Yma was born later that year. So the last five years HAVE been quite a journey. Invocation was probably an unusual album to make as a debut, and because of that it took quite a while to figure out exactly what I had made?

On one hand the first part of it was a pretty pure realisation of the embryonic Honkeyfinger live sound. . .Heavy Psych Blues stripped back and monstrously amped up. I had the intention to try for some kind of early solo John Lee Hooker sound but played through the hijacked gear of Black Sabbath or Blue Cheer. Then there’s the latter part of those Invocation recordings where I was getting more ambitious and pushing further out with loops and effects pedals and bass harmonicas etc. Probably inspired by what Tom Waits was doing on Real Gone and doubtless whatever cosmic skronk I was listening to at the time.

So the next few years had me catching up with those recordings and figuring heavier and more freaked out ways to play this stuff live as a one man band. I think it’s a format that necessarily lends itself to tripping yourself up - why else would you do it? So inevitably you run out of guitar pedal combinations to try, and need to write some more songs. Difficult second album.

So I got fed up with being a one man blues band, albeit a pretty heavy, and pretty psychedelic one. Stopped playing so much, and gradually wrote an album through recording. Myself. The main difference to making Invocation was thinking beyond what one person could play, but what sounds one person could bring together to make sounds they liked. So I got a few 70s Rhythm machines like Suicide used and lined up all the FX pedals and kept riffing until some interesting sounds came out. It felt more like painting a dozen or so huge canvasses of apocalyptic psychedelic visions than just ‘making an album’.

That was actually almost 2 years ago now . So . . Learnt the new songs and started playing live with my old pal Marvin Kingdom who’s played guitar in about 8 bands with me since 1991. We did a tour with Jim Jones Revue as still named Honkeyfinger, and played with The Magic Band (sadly without Don Van Vliet).

I think becoming Jonny Halifax & The Howling Truth came about after opening for Scott Biram in Scotland. Scott’s always called me by my real name “. . aka Honkeyfinger”. He says to me afterwards “Why the fuck you call yourself Honkeyfinger when you got such a cool name man?”. Also I liked the idea of name that sounded like some demented acid fried religious cult since there was so much howling and ranting on about that kind of thing on Bestial Floor.

So I’ve also started up Greasy Noise Recordings recently, which put out the Honkeyfinger Beasts EP on cassette, and the Howling Truth album on CD and now Vinyl. I do all the artwork which is hand printed in small runs. Hopefully there’ll be a few more releases on ancient formats covered in thick layers of ink from my greasy and noisy friends in the coming months. True DIY production. About the only thing I didn’t do with Bestial Floor was press the damn thing from lacquer myself. Next time. . .

DB:: Does this poem have anything to do with the title of the new album?

The Magi
By W. B. Yeats
Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

JH:: W.B. Yeats - Yes it does. It’s from the last line ‘The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor’. 

I’d been reading a fair bit around the themes of apocalyptic religions, and different outlooks to human existence on the planet in the face of all the present doom prophecies. Having recently become a parent I probably became a bit too darkly fixated on the demise of humankind and exactly what constituted our ideas of ‘civilisation’. 

I’d finished recording the collection of songs for the album, and was thinking of calling it ’In the Realms of Noble Savagery’ after the track of that name. That’s a track about the idea of our evolution into a supposedly sophisticated civilisation, where the heights of nobility, wealth and stature more likely disguise a history of savage exploitation and inhumanity. A kind of Heart of Darkness type in the 21st Century kind of thing. But then I picked up a Yeats book from the bookshelf I’d never seen before, and opened it at the last page which was the poem ‘The Magi’. Immediately that phrase resonated almost perfectly with the wider themes I’d been writing about on the album. 

There’s a lot of anger, frustration, and bile in the songs (in itself paradoxical) about the stupidity and greed of humankind, blinded by selfish ideas of salvation, and an apparent collective inability to act humanely on a global scale. There was something serenely existential here, and at the same time sort of hopeless, which summed up for me the mood of the album. The absurdity and contradictions of organised Religion phrased so elegantly, ending in the almost horrific brutality of ‘the bestial floor’, a kind of wake up call. Like the Francis Bacon painting of The screaming Pope in Head IV. So that stuck with me. I tried to rephrase it with other prefixes, but ‘The Bestial Floor’ pure and simply won out in the end. It still makes me uncomfortable to say it. 
DB:: I'm curious about your recording process. You record at home. What kind of set-up do you have for that? Analog or digital? Do you record live or do you build the tracks? Who else do you have playing on the album, and when you have other people recording with you is that live?

JH:: Yeah - I’m not sure if it’s conventional or not. It works for me at the moment. I record in the comfort of my work studio straight to hard drive through my FX board and then DI to sound card. The tracks I generally built as riffs, sequenced into arrangements with basic rhythms. Then wrote lyrics, weave around overdubs, see what worked as I went along. For some of the louder stuff I’d take a laptop to record in a rehearsal studio to get the real freakout energy. Most of the tracks were built in a pretty collaged type way. In a few cases - The Mountain particularly I hit on a fragment of a lead line take I’d recorded, then discarded the rest, and rebuilt it around that. The keyboard on Creeping Jesus and clarinet parts on Black Desert and Fever Rising were added last of all to tracks which were kind of fine as they were, but that little extra bit of colour helped tip them over the edge. They were pretty spontaneous - “Here, put on these headphones listen to this, improvise a few takes - go crazy.”

I’d say my process here is more like making a painting or a piece of abstract art. With Honkeyfinger it was much more of a live recording, because I’d written all the tracks to play live. With Bestial Floor, I wrote it whilst recording. The Demos ARE the album. It’s DIY. It’s inexpensive (assuming you have a computer). It’s immediate. You can change stuff if you don’t like it and you can experiment without the need for watching the  clock.

In the end I had it mixed by Mark Gardener over in Oxford, who has a great studio set up there with loads of Analog outboard stuff, where he ‘warmed up’ some of my harsher digital recordings. I wanted someone else to help with this process to give the mixes a bit more space and depth in the stereo separation, so that more than a few fuzz junkies (myself included) who like everything in mono and cranked into the red might want to listen to it.

DB:: So what's next? I see you did something for Record Store Day, and and you're selling an art print? Somebody should have you do a film soundtrack.

JH:: Yes I put out the Howling Truth album on vinyl for Record Store Day. Learnt to screen print, and inked the 300 sleeves myself with a different design from the CD. They’re all different colours, some messy, some precise, as I figured out what I was doing. So a proper DIY limited edition affair. I don’t yet know how many were actually sold at RSD, as that seems to become increasingly smothered by the old dinosaurs pushing out their back catalogue for the zillionth time, but the idea of it all is still great. Cassette store day in September!

So what’s new? Carrying on with the screen printing, working to realise the idea I had to make a series of artworks, individual sleeves if you will, for the main titles on the album, and then have a Bestial Floor art show. So far I have 1 print, with another 3 about ready to go. I’m sure somebody’s toured an album as a gallery exhibition, but it’s a new one for me, so I’ll be pushing that out later this year hopefully.

Also I’ve started Greasy Noise as a label, which originally saw the precursor to ‘The Bestial Floor’, the ‘Beasts EP’ come out as Honkeyfinger on cassette and download. The Archdrude Julian Cope took a liking to this which helped kick all that off. So there’ll be more Greasy Noise coming into the world soon with a few friends and some of my side projects coming out in a gloriously DIY hand made limited run kind of way.

Soundtracks Yes! No problem there at all. The opener of the new album ‘Black Desert’ is pretty cinematic, and there’s a load more of that I have recorded which will probably see the light through Greasy Noise soon. More is More. Come on!

. . .and The Howling Truth is now evolving into an act which is starting to generate new material as a live band rather than just me in the studio. We’re playing  a lot, and continually looking at ways to expand it musically with more improvisation, and more collaboration with the wider family of musicians and performers I know. The heavy psych blues riffing is a given, it’s adding more layers of freeform textural and rhythmic noise where the new fun is at for us. We’re out there. . or here . . . somewhere.

DB:: Thanks Jonny! I hope to see you again one of these days. One of the last times I saw you was at a Deep Blues Festival, and as I recall you managed to stop the rain and wind storm. Cheers!

The Bestial Floor is feral, heavy, groovy, and mind blowing. Isn't that just what we need today? Set volume between rump shake and obliterate.

22 May 2014

If you're gonna go to one blues festival in Switzerland this year make it the only one that matters :: CRiSSiER BLUES RULES FESTiVAL

@fb // web // Normandeep Blues Records

I had a chance to talk to Vincent Delsupexhe about his upcoming Blues Rules Festival in Cressier, France, June 7th to 9th. Blues Rules has been going on for a few years now and each year they attract some the coolest blues, alt-blues, what-ever-you-wanna-call-it-blues bands to a picturesque small town in Switzerland and putting on a festival on the grounds of a small castle

Deep Blues:: How did the Blues Rules Festival get started?

Vincent Delsupexhe:: I created it with a friend this is our boy. Usually Thomas is up to all the sponsorship, media, logistics and swiss connection. And I'm more into the artistic part (line up, graphics) but things are made together - we both selected the bands and taking decision. And during the festival I'm in charge of the musicians and he takes care of the stage crew.

DB:: How'd the idea for the fest first come about?

VD:: Having a beer in Paris 18months before the 1st festival Thomas and I hardly knew each other, he told me "you like blues, you have connections with some people in the USA (Kenny Brown), I love blues too, what about having our own festival? "

DB:: How many years has the fest been running? What's your connection to Kenny Brown? Tell me about the festival site. Where's it located and how/why did you choose it?

VD:: The festival is located in the small town of Crissier, in the suburb of Lausanne, up in the hill above the Leman Lake. It realIy happens in the garden of a castle... I had met Kenny in 2006 in Paris and he told me "if you love blues, come to Mississippi" so I bought my ticket that night to travel there. I met Kenny (again) in summer 2006 at the Ground Zero, Clarksdale, and then at his picnic in 2008 and 2010. He introduced me to the people there...Stacy D Lee  and Chris Johnson helped me a lot, too.

We chose the Crissier castle because of the crazy scenery and because Thomas was living there too.

Here you'll find the previous lines-up's, plus some words from some bands "paroles d artistes."

In 2010: The 1st edition with 23 bands like from USA: Black Diamond Heavies, Wes Mackey, Scissormen, Reid Paley trio, Blue Mother Tupelo, Shake it Like a Caveman, Red Mouth, Boom Chick, Ian Thomas
From Europe: Dave Arcari, Honkeyfinger, Rev. Tom Frost, Bena & Ptaszek, Veronica Sbergia, Hell's Kitchen, Mama Rosin, Jim Murple Memorial, Yom From Mars, T.Rogers, Guitar Fucker, Wonkeyman, Watchmaking Metropolis Orchestra, Producteurs de Porc.

2011: This was the second edition of the Blues Rules Crissier Festival...
We reduced a bit the line up but 16 bands will share the unique stage there in the castle garden:
- Kenny Brown (USA)
- Bob Log III (USA)
- Roland Tchakonté trio (F)
- Eric McFadden trio (USA)
- Chapel Hill (F)
- Wes Mackey (USA)
- Vermillion Sands (I)
- Rev. DeadEye & his Broken Spirits (USA)
- Scissormen (USA)
- Hillstomp (USA)
- Captain Moustache & Fredo Ignazio (CH), Lubos Bena & Matej Ptaszek (SK), Floyd Beaumont & the Arkadelphians (CH), Sevdah Dragi Moj (CH), Hannibal Slim & Captain Boogie (CH) The last ones from the list sent us a 3-pages-hand-written letter to ask us to play the Blues Rules... you should listen to their stuff!

2012: 16 bands including Possessed By Paul James, Molly Gene, Reverend Wilkins, the Rising Star Fife and Drum Corp.

2013: Castle was closed so we did a small European tour in Crissier, Lausanne, Paris and Rome with Robert Belfour, Left Lane Cruiser, and Lightin' Malcolm.

2014: Back to the castle ground with 16 bands,
Eric Bibb (USA)
Leo Bud Welch (USA)
Manu Lanvin and The Devil Blues (F)
Hell's Kitchen (CH)
Kent and Dexter Burnside (USA)
Wes Mackey (USA)
Restavrant (USA)
Thomas Schoeffler Jr. (F)
Sarah Savoy (USA/F)
Backyard Devils (CA)
Swamp Train (CH)
Dr. Buttler's Hatstand Medicine Band (UK)
Blackberry & Mister Boo-Hoo (F)
The Coconut Kings (CH)
Garden Sessions : Jynx (F)

Thanks Vincent!
It's a dream of mine to someday attend this fest. At least dreams are free. Check out these great videos from past festival performances::