Patrick Boissel’s Alive Natural Sound record company, an outfit he founded in 1994, has become a haven for music acts in the realms of garage rock, punk, power pop, and just about any band that plays the blues with bluster and the volume up at 10. It’s the smaller labels like this one who find those diamonds in the rough, usually rough in the literal sense. The no-nonsense, in-your-face stance in Alive’s stable connects root music forms with the younger indie crowd but also connects to older folks like me who remember when most music was both handmade and full of soul and personality.
That’s what these two fine recent releases by the label represent to me. A little rough around the edges, it’s nonetheless music that’s honest, fun and, well…alive:
Left Lane Cruiser Junkyard Speed Ball
We first took notice of Left Lane Cruiser from the time of their first album Bring Yo’ Ass To The Table (2008), who like The Black Keys is a blues-based duo with a big, noisy sound. Actually, they are more like the original Black Keys from their debut The Big Come Up, from when the then-unknown band was part of the Alive family. Junkyard Speed Ball, out since March 1, is album no. 3, following 2009′s All You Can Eat. If there’s a point where you expect a band to start move away from their original sound, call it “evolve” or “devolve” depending on the band, you’d probably start noticing it by the third album. That hadn’t happened yet for the Left Lane Cruisers.
Junkyard Speed Ballis just as crunchy, unsubtle and amplified as album No. 1. For the first time, there’s a keyboardist on some tracks: James Leg, whose debut album is talked about below. Co-producer Jim Diamond supplies bass for one track. But their contributions are nearly superfluous through no fault of their own, as guitarist/vocalist Freddy J IV and drummer Brenn “Sausage Paw” Beck are immovable forces. This remains sandblasted, blues-based rock as Freddy J’s over-amped guitar and over-amped vocals screams over Beck’s booming backbeat.
When you get past the loudness of Freddy J’s guitar, you find there’s more going on with it than first meets the ears. For one, he’s a pretty damned good slide player (“Giving Tree”, “Cracker Barrel”), and “Weed Vodka” is bluegrass disguised as a metal blues number. “Represent,” a little bit heavier than normal because of Diamond’s bass, takes some poetic cues from rap music. On the other hand “Hip Hop” is a lot closer to ZZ Top than anything hip-hop. Most of the time, however, the band sticks close to its signature sound, a heavy, Southern-flavored blues rock, like Mountain without a bass player.
Some things never change, and in the case of Left Lane Cruiser, there’s really no need to. LLC has found the right formula from the get-go and wisely keeps a good thing going for Junkyard Speed Ball.
James Leg Solitary Pleasure
John Wesley Myers of the primal garage punk blues duo The Black Diamond Heavies goes solo in everything but his own name only. Using the nom de plume of James Leg, the singer, keyboardist, and co-songwriter for the BDHs ports over enough of his band’s bold, brash character to Solitary Pleasure (released April 12) to appeal to virtually all of their entire fan base, but there’s also plenty enough differences there to justify Myers to do this record on his own. Van Campbell’s brutally hard and righteous bashing is noticeably missing (replaced by a somewhat more nuanced Andrew Jody), and most of the songs are toned down from a ear splitting raucous to just loud. But Myers as James Leg is still a howler and growler; only on “Whatever It Takes” does he sing in a normal voice. And he still is no god-damned ivory tickler, he’s a “Fender Rhodes finger f*cker.” (RootsTime).
Though the first two songs are heavy numbers—”Do How You Wanna” even adds a guitar—Leg is exploring other rootsy styles for the rest of the album, mostly with self written tunes. From the saloon lament of “Nobody’s Fault” accompanied by only a slightly out of tune piano to the heavily amped romp of Link Wray’s “Fire And Brimstone” that rivals the Neville Brothers’ version, Solitary Pleasure has more soul. Even a sax and trombone are added to a couple of tracks, bringing a jazzy element to Leg’s proudly gritty sound (hearing those horns toot and squeal around Leg’s gravelly croon on “No License (Song For The Caged Bird)” comes strangely close to Louis Armstrong). While he didn’t write the endearing drunkard’s rationalization of Kill Devil Hill’s “Drinking Too Much,” he completely took over that song:
Part Tom Waits, part Leon Russell and part Lee Michaels, James Leg makes a record that’s less direct than his regular gig but more varied. The variety is what spices up this record, for the better. Here’s hoping for more split-personality schizophrenia coming from John Wesley Myers.