|I see a dozen spirits in this photo.|
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Chicken Snake stands tall in the collective shadow of bands like The Gun Club, The Cramps, Handsome Family, CCR, Cap'n Beefheart, Stooges, X...and the ghosts of the early-mid Rolling Stones, too, for that matter.
They're bands that excavate and reimagine American blues and country music into their own primeval landscape, their own often base yet book-smart, shadowy, cinematic, symbolized, and often haunting world-view of rocking. Chicken Snake dance with that long, dark southern shadow through a Sticky Fingered New York City swamp at vesper, doing a bluesy, Velvetsy, graveyard boogie.
From Bristol to Detroit, New York to Mississippi, they're a band that conveys a definite sense of place, and you can't help but know where they're coming from, and where they're residing. I hear music that's deeply, naturally southern...gothic...but this is not some Qute retro hokem jingle-jangle homage, but rather, it's a dark and low down music with myth and mystery, folk-life literacy, and back road country cautions.
Listen, in the vale of the night, the new moon rising over the hill, dogs begin to howl. You up and take off running down a tenebrous trail thick with cedar knees to trip on, and Spanish moss to get tangled up in as you hustle to the sliver-mooned late dark of a gravel road where, in the distance shining hard, you see the lights of a hotly lit dog-trot house, and you stop...breathing hard...to listen...at a guitar growl and a voice moaning, "Tombstone head and a graveyard mind..."
The night is dark and the sky is blue as Chicken Snake hitches Hasil Adkins' rattling commodity country trailer to the eternal night boogie of John Lee Hooker's '67 Coupe De Ville. They top it off with Keith n' Ronnie's Funkycountrybluesstomp Slash n' Gas, then pull that lowboy out into the drone of a north Mississippi, west Louisiana, Alabama sunset. Chooglin. In the rearview, you can just make out Buddy & Julie Miller playing cards with Lux and Ivy in a TV-lit kitchenette at the No-Tell Motel, lovingly warmed by The Fire Of Love...then Iggy and Alan Vega walk in with a stack of southern B-Movies and a bottle of lightning...
Jerry Teel is straight out of Andalusia, south Alabama, between Enterprise and Opp, north of the gulf, north of Niceville. Pauline Teel hails from Orange, Texas, a small town on the Tx/La border. The Teel's met Josh, a Pennsylvanian, and Jessica, a Virginian, in NYC after Katrina. Josh, worked at a record store near Jerry and Pauline's place, and both couples it turned out were New Orleans refugees, though they didn't know each other in the Crescent City.
I asked Josh Lee Hooker about his musical connection with legendary punk country blues guitar maestro Jerry Teel, (formerly of The Chrome Cranks, Knoxville Girls, Boss Hog, Honeymoon Killers, among others) and he tells me,
"I think Jerry and I have a rare shared affinity for our specific conception of music. I mean that we each created (as any passionate listener does) our own idiosyncratic notions of what makes music good, what things have meaning and what don't—and then it turned out that those independent, idiosyncratic notions happened to be eerily similar. So, it's very easy for me to play with Jerry, because we have the perspective without having to discuss anything. Of course, it's also my great privilege to play with him, whose work I've known since the early 90s."
Guitarist Hooker (no relation beyond spiritual) is a perfect foil for guitarist Teel, and the two men work as a team, like gandy dancers, like knife-fighters, like Glimmer Twins, while minimalist on-point drummer Jessica-Melain, elegant on snare and floor tom, keeps the primeval hunch from falling off the bone. Singer Pauline Teel is a powerful and wise presence, teaming with Jerry on vocals or singing solo, walking like Ivy, like a dust devil, like a Fire Spirit...countering Jerry's rusty, country plaint as punk poet Loretta to his Howlin' Conway.
Tombstone and Bones is a hard, soulful, bluesed-out, country-infected rock and roll album, and that represents so well with the first track, the low country evol soul duet of Muddy Water Mystery with it's slow, drawling refrain,
"I don't want to get on your bad side,
don't know what kind of mood your in"
It's the sound of menace, of a darker shade of night, a faster flickering candle, the pages of a book turning on their own, or a car coasting down hill on a on a moonless night, on a graveled country road, and going no-brakes 'round the corner...
Now, Donna Lynn, in a perfect world, would be a monster hit single, with its insanely evil Bo-Chuck-Keith-Stooges guitar paroxysms, with its one-string solo fury....drummer Jessica is a simple yet efficient machine, as Teel and Hooker throw knives and hurl bombs of beautiful guitar savagery like we sure as hell don't hear enough of these days.
Guitarist Josh Lee Hooker tells me,
"The Donna Lynn guitar stuff is my attempt (after my understanding of Cale-era Velvet Underground) to create tension and momentum, principally through "wrong" notes, and notes that start off "right" but then are bent and pulled into something more atonal.
Jerry and Pauline have had the song Donna Lynn since the very beginning of the band, back in '09 maybe. We played it a few times during rehearsals for the 1st record, but never really came up with a good version. Only recently, with the Velvets/Alan Vega thing we do now, did it actually sound right."
Black Crow Talkin' Blues is a rockin' old-timey natural world gospel song, but Hot + Cold is a Crampsy pompatus of love, breakin' it down, layin' it out.
The candy-silver metal-flake holler of Black Pony, with it's mocking, ascending guitar line, Louisiana campfire nightmare vocals, and trottin' dog drum beat, is a dream I don't want to have, but I don't mind to visit from here. Rich Man Blues could be a 'Stones out take, or better yet a Ron Wood outtake.
Lay It Down is evocative of a late summer heat spell- hot, dirty, and threatening, like a cross between Bo Diddley and a Saturday night fight.
Tombstone and Bones ends the set with haunting slide work, and some gorgeous harmonica set to a woozy gospel blues lamentation, "It's too late, too late, too late, too late, lock up your door, shut up your gate, their ain't nothin' left, but a tombstone and bones..."
It's a haunting, primitive sound, Chicken Snake's.
A raw, unpretentious old-timey/ swampy/ stonesy, creeptastic, Super Primordial Mejores éxitos de Rock sound tempered in North Mississippi hill country trance and drone blues...a driving, primal, dirty, citified country blues and boogie that sounds as fresh and dangerous today as it would have eighty years ago. One of my favorite albums of the year. I highly recommend it.