A TASTE OF SOMEONE ELSE'S CLASS - Black Diamond Heavies (Alive)
The first thought that sprang into my head when I clapped eyes on this was: "Bullfrog is back!" Indeed, the vocally-blessed John Wesley Myers has returned and so has the forthright of drummers, Van Campbell. Second albums are almost always a precarious balancing act between replicating what a band does best on the debut while moving things on a little down the track on the follow-up. As much as I loved the first album though, this one took a little more time to get into.
For me, part of the problem here is the mix. It's still raw and in the face but the distortion is bordering on annoying. My car system won't handle it. The other part (and it's more of a quibble) was the choice of the all-too-obvious "Nutbush City Limit" as the opener. That one might not be obvious to you but it is to me 'cos I had to endure it, and the cliched dance step its opening bars invoked, at every school dance in the '70s when they should have been playing the Stones.
If you're not familiar with the territory the Heavies occupy, think a duo (yes, another one!) playing greasy, heavy organ-powered blues. Myer's vocals are still impossibly deep and gravelly. Campbell attacks that kit like he's chopping the heads off chickens at harvest time. The righteous, bottom-heavy noise he and Campbell summon up with little more than a big, battered kit and Fender Rhodes or Hammond between them is awe-inspiring.
For this album, they've again augmented things slightly. The Heavies hauled in an occasional bassist, horns (on the laidback "Bidin' My Time") and guitar (courtesy of The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach) but the move towards expanding the musical palette doesn't dilute the formula in the slightest. And it was recorded in just three days.
"Nutbush", the more obscure "Take a Ride" (James Model T Ford) and Nina Simone's "Oh, Sinnerman" are the covers with the balance (eight songs) a mix of tub-thumpers ("Numbers 22", the swinging "Happy Hour" and "Everythang Is Everythang" being prime examples) or very occasional laid-back jazzy or bluesy interludes.
Deep down it's still just the blues, but just like at a wedding; it's something old, something borrowed and something blue that leaves the deepest impression. This twist works. - The Barman
EVERY DAMN TIME – Black Diamond Heavies (Alive)
This one's greasier than the Graceland chef’s skillet after Elvis hosted a week-long fried peanut butter sandwich party for the Memphis Mafia. If you can reconcile basslines as thick as The King’s personal physician’s prescription pad with don’t-fuck-with-me drumming and a bullfrog vocal that sounds like a septuagenarian Delta bluesman with balls the size of a buffalo, you’ll have a good idea where Black Diamond Heavies are coming from.
Which would be a lo-fi studio in Chattanooga, Tennessee - and it sounds all the better for all expense being spared. Black Diamond Heavies are a two-piece and “Every Damn Time” was recorded live to two-track analogue tape, with every snare drum rattle, overdriven bottom end signal and swig from mandatory bottle of cheap whiskey captured in all their tattered glory. Audiophiles, look elsewhere.
John Wesley Myers (vocals, Fender Rhodes and bass keys) and Van Campbell (drums and vocals) are evidently the product of some southern USA touring circuit that’s probably so far under the mainstream radar that its patrons think a cover charge is the fee the local cops hit you with for a blanket when you’re slung into the drunk tank overnight. I reckon they would have gone down a storm at Junior Kimsborough’s, assuming the job sheet gave them adequate directions to find it. I guess we’ll never know.
The CD blurb says Myers is the Texas-born son of a Baptist preacher who played gospel as a child until he went bad. Let’s not pray for redemption. Campbell’s the product of a family of bourbon distillers, has a degree in Mandarin Chinese and has drummed professionally on three continents. (I personally think if anyone was genetically drunk enough to enrol in Mandarin at university they’d be flat-out sleeping it off in a departure lounge, let alone capable of finding their way onto a plane, but that’s just me.) Anyway, how do you say: “Make mine chilli prawns with a short soup”?
Opening cut “Fever in My Blood” sets the tone for what follows. Let’s just say it’s a song with tatts in a wife beater T-shirt and leave it at that. If “My Name Is Earl” had a cool soundtrack, this or “Guess You Gone and Fucked It All Up” would be good theme music. “Leave It In the Road” wraps itself in an irresistible backbeat and Myers’ rumbling vocal. The Billy Preston keyboards of “Stitched in Sin”, or the down-home, with-a-whiff-of-horns “All to Hell”, are as mellow as it gets. Which is mellower than “White Bitch”, but these things are all relative.
With a bottom end bigger than Homer Simpson’s arse and not a guitar to be heard it’s an album that’s heavily reliant on Myers’ keyboards for its colour. The good news is that we’re not let down and he’s a tremendous player.
“Every Damn Time” is every bit as soulful as Sunday brunch in Harlem with the same attendant edge of risk if you wander the wrong way down a side-street. Fans of the Black Keys or the Soledad Brothers should cock an ear - with the proviso that “Every Damn Time” is less refined. Not a bad thing, that. – The Barman
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