Not to be missed, believe me! : Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg - Painkillers (Raw Rirty Bluesrock US 2012)
In case you wondered whatever became of the tradition of the blues jam, it was alive and kicking for a few days in Detroit when raw and rootsy guitar-and-drum duo Left Lane Cruiser headed into a recording studio with James Leg, the keyboard player and vocal howler from the Black Diamond Heavies, to lay down a set of high-octane cover tunes. Producer Jim Diamond sat in on bass and Harmonica Shah stopped by to blow some harp, and the result is Painkillers, a loud and rowdy collection of bluesy wailing for the 21st century. Like plenty of bands on the punk-blues axis, both Left Lane Cruiser and James Leg approach their music with the ferocity of a starving dog that’s been tossed a bloody steak, and if you’re looking for anything approaching subtlety, Painkillers is not for you.
But the musicians on this date all seem to be on the same page — they want to get loud and boogie like they’re expecting to be taken to jail in the morning, and for a makeshift band, these performances are surprisingly tight and emphatic. Leg’s trademark “Tom Waits with a sore throat” growl is as over-the top as it’s always been, but in this context, it suits the material just fine, and his swirling organ and thickly distorted electric piano are rich and satisfying, while the manic slide guitar of Frederick “Joe” Evans IV and hard-stomping drumming of Brenn Beck are as greasy as a good burger and just as tasty. Diamond’s rock-solid bass work and full-bodied engineering is just the right icing on this particular cake, as are the primal harp blasts from Harmonica Shah, and if the set list — a list of blues and blues-rock standards ranging from Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin — isn’t especially imaginative, these guys attack like the best sort of bar band, and the version of Bob Seger’s “Come to Poppa” suggests they were embracing the Detroit experience to the fullest. Painkillers suggests an overdriven, punk-infused variation on Canned Heat’s old formula, and if they’re never going to get to cut an album with John Lee Hooker, at least they have the good sense to see that their boogie isn’t endless, and for 35 minutes, this is a house party worth a visit.
Left Lane Cruiser are a two-piece gritty blues-rock band from Fort Wayne, Indiana. It features Freddy J IV on guitars, and Brenn “Sausage Paw” Beck on drums and vocals. In this album, they also acquired James Leg, keyboardist for fellow blues-rockers Black Diamond Heavies. Jim Diamond was brought in to cover bass duties, and Harmonica Shah to wail on the harp. Although I normally don’t enjoy cover records (or know much about this genre), this one definitely stands out from the pack.
Painkillers is drenched in distortion and has a great live feel. Nothing is over-done or over-produced, and the songs although covers feel their own. They really used the cover record to their advantage, as recognizable songs to any music fan such as Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9” or Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks” are just recognizable enough to be the original writers’, but with enough personal style to commend the band for covering their selection of songs.
After 4 original albums, the decision to make a cover album was actually a good one. If you’re a fan of dirty blues-rock or “punk blues” as they self-proclaim on the back of the CD, then this is for you no matter what pre-concieved notions you have about cover records.
If Robert Johnson took a midnight stroll to meet the devil at the crossroads and exchange his soul for the blues, this collaboration between punk-blues label-mates Left Lane Cruiser and James Leg sounds like they’ve got a direct line to the fiery pits of hell.
As Leg, one half of The Black Diamond Heavies, growls at the moon, Frederick ‘Joe’ Evans IV accompanies him with a feverish slide-guitar squall, while drummer Brenn ‘Sausage Paw’ Breck pounds out a relentless, jackhammer beat. With producer Jim Diamond sitting in on bass and 66-year-old bluesman Harmonica Shah guesting on harp, Painkillers doesn’t so much breathe life into as provide electric shock treatment for the 10 covers collected here, including an excellent brooding psych-blues rendition of Bob Seger’s ‘Come To Poppa’, Jimi Hendrix’s ‘If 6 Was 9’, both with Leg on organ, and Robert Johnson’s ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’.
In a genre full of retreaded and overdone covers that imitate the original rather than break new musical ground, I knew when Painkillers dropped out of the recent shipment envelope from Alive Records that there was a chance that this disk full of covers would be both different and great.
For those unfamiliar with Left Lane Cruiser’s music, Left Lane Cruiser is a punk-blues juke joint duo that creates a musical sound track to a crime spree with bare bones instrumentation. While the crimes in the musically inspired crime spree involve only non-violent felonies and a lot of depraved misdemeanors, their carnal punk-infused blues is only complemented when Brenn Beck (drums and percussion) and Fredrick “Joe” Evans IV (guitar and vocals) team up with James Leg (a.k.a. John Wesley Myers - vocalist and Fender Rhodes torturer with the Black Diamond Heavies) and the musical debauchery only intensifies.
Given Left Lane Cruiser’s North Mississippi Hill Country/Deep Blues influences, it was no surprise to see the requisite Junior Kimbrough cover opening up Painkillers. Proving that not even Kimbrough’s material is sacred, Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg whip up their own version of “Sad Days and Lonely Nights.” While the track shares Kimbrough’s own sparse instrumentation, Beck, Evans IV and Leg create a bombastic up-tempo version of the original. With Leg growling out the vocals and offering up a highly distorted Fender Rhodes solo, “Sad Days and Lonely Nights” is a fitting, while almost unrecognizable, tribute to Junior Kimbrough.
Paying tribute to another great groove-orientated slide guitarist, again it was no surprise to find Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg offering a tribute to the late, great Hound Dog Taylor. It was refreshing to hear Evans IV actually relax his signature distorted vocals on this cover song. Normally happy to revel in the distorted “crunch” of running his vocals through a Marshall stack, Evans IV reminds us that although he enjoys the vocal gimmick, he can actually sing.
Accompanied by Harmonica Shah on John Lee Hooker’s “Shake it Baby,” Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg create yet another boogie-inducing tribute to one of their influences. Proving to not just be bombastic punks, but musicians in their own right, Beck, Evans IV and Leg leave plenty of space in the groove for Harmonica Shah to toot, warble and solo throughout the track without interference.
Though all of the cover songs on Painkiller are clever well-chosen renditions playing to the trio’s influences and strengths, my favorite track on Painkillers has to be Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg’s interpretation of Robert Johnson’s “Rambling on My Mind.” With Leg handling the vocal duties, as well as hammering out a completely enjoyable barrelhouse piano line, it is hard not to think that with that vocal growl, James Leg could be the love child of Tom Waits and Cookie Monster.
By infusing blues rock with heavy doses of punk sensibility, separately both the works of James Leg or Left Lane Cruiser are incredibly compelling, but as a Deep Blues supergroup on Painkillers, James Leg and Left Lane Cruiser churn out 10 fitting tributes to their influences. One can only hope this collaborative project sells enough to make sure Painkillers isn’t just a one-off project.
01. Sad Days Lonely Nights (3:18)
02. She’s Gone (3:13)
03. Come To Poppa (3:50)
04. Red Rooster (2:55)
05. If 6 Was 9 (3:48)
06. Shake It (5:21)
07. Ramblin On My Mind (2:55)
08. Chevrolet (2:34)
09. When The Levee Breaks (4:24)
10. Sway (3:23)
Edited by In2TheBlues on 28 Sep 2012, 16:19
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