House Levelers – No Definitions (1991)

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NICK DERISO: Go into this hidden-away New Orleans gem expecting blues — what with Jim Dickinson producing and East Memphis Slim as a sideman — and you’re in for a big surpise.

The House Levelers were more of a thumpy roots-music outfit, one that was at once sharp as scissors, old-buddy loveable and slam-danceable. Key selections here, both relevant then and kitschy cool now, included “Van Halen T-shirt,” “Sick of the Sixties” and “David Duke.”

Pete Ficht and Grayson Capps — he once aptly called the Levelers “thrash folk”; that’s him in the photo — trade back and forth on “No Definitions,” doing one song and then the other. That mix-and-match magic earned the group a story in USA Today as well as fans who were then dabbling in both the Dead Milkmen and the Chickasaw Mudpuppies.

Like those bands, if you cocked your head just so, there was something musical about the House Levelers. But, I imagine for many, it took some time to hear just how. They too defined themselves in whole new way, howling with abandon like a front-porch hound, and that’s probably why the House Levelers never completely took off.

Capps, an Alabama native who studied theater at Tulane in the late 1980s, was later part of Stavin’ Chain (the album was produced by John Mooney, who’d worked with Son House) and then the Stump Knockers. Each again built a shambling, angular house on top of the tried-and-true foundation of the blues. But none topped this, one of the first recordings made for Tipitina’s Records.

Purchase: House Levelers – No Definitions

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