Left Lane Cruiser and John Wesley Myers (aka James Leg) are both coming off ass-whoopin’ records from last year, and both were sized up here at the same time. Little did I know then that they would soon afterwards join forces and make a record together, and that record will be coming out next week. Containing nothing but covers of mostly well-worn blues and blues-inflected rock songs that suit the sandpaper texture favored by these Alive Natural Sound label mates, Painkillers can be viewed as a stopgap for both acts until their next proper albums. It might be a stopgap but it’s hardly a throwaway set of tracks.
Besides being on the same record label, LLC and Leg have toured and performed together, with Leg often doing so as a member of The Black Diamond Heavies. With the chemistry already established, a lot of overlap between these two acts’ styles and playing material both presumably know well, this couldn’t have been a hard record to cut: just plug in and go. The best way to approach such a situation is to simply let attitude and adrenaline take over and that’s what guitarist/vocalist Freddy J “Joe” IV, drummer Brenn “Sausage Paw” Beck and keyboardist/screamer/growler Leg did. Rounding out the impromptu group is Jim Diamond on bass and Harmonica Shah on blues harp.
They do all of these songs justice. Junior Kimbrough’s “Sad Days Lonely Nights” gets the ruckus going with Leg’s crunchy keys and Joe’s screaming slide joining forces to create a monstrous riffed-up noise. Leg takes the lead vocal on this one but you can still hear Joe yell out the end of the lines from across the studio. Yeah, they came fired up. They best Bob Seger’s version of “Come To Poppa” (Youtube below) by rubbing a little dirt on it. I won’t go as far as to state that they also bested Led Zeppelin on “When The Levee Breaks,” but they did match the energy of the original.
Harmonica Shah might be the most hardcore performer on the record; the sixty-six year old’s amped up harp skins alive Willie Dixon’s “Red Rooster” and John Lee Hooker’s “Shake It.” Beck’s backbeat is big and booming, as he gets a good groove going on “Chevrolet” and explodes on “If 6 Was 9.” Joe and James swap vocals on a soulful take on the Rolling Stones’ overlooked battered ballad “Sway,” a fine way to end the set.
The main draw of either Left Lane Cruiser or James Leg aren’t so much the songs they write, it’s the ragged, rough way they deliver them. All the same, Painkillers makes its case because they tackle the covers in the same way. Starting to get withdrawals from LLC and/or James Leg not having a new record out in a year? Here’s your prescription.
Painkillers releases on June 26 by Alive Natural Sound Records.
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