A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 21, 2014
It doesn't sound that thrilling on paper. A band plays basic, unfettered, rocking blues — closer to gutbucket than to the smooth, tame uptown stuff — cranks it up, adds a little rockabilly sneer, and in the process of honoring ascended masters like Hound Dog Taylor and Howlin’ Wolf, also pays sly homage to The Yardbirds and maybe even the Count Five and other ’60s garage crazies.
Yes, that’s been done before. And yet, when it’s done right with plenty of spirit, there isn’t much that can beat it. This is the case with a new band called The Bloodhounds. Their debut album, Let Loose!, despite all its obvious roots in the past, is some of the freshest-sounding music I’ve heard lately.
The Hounds are a predominantly Chicano band from East L.A. — which means they’re undoubtedly getting a little tired of the obvious comparison to early-1980s Los Lobos. But the comparison is apt. Let Loose!, especially the faster songs, reminds me a lot of ... And a Time to Dance, the 1983 EP that introduced Los Lobos to the rock ’n’ roll world. None of The Bloodhounds are up to David Hidalgo’s level as a songwriter yet. But give them time. (All the songs here are originals, credited to the four band members, except one Bo Diddley song and one by Otis Redding.)
The album comes bucking out of the stall with “Indian Highway,” which has an irresistible, bluesy guitar hook that evokes Bob Dylan’s “Obviously Five Believers.” As singer Aaron “Little Rock” Piedraita belts out the lyrics and guitarist Branden Santos makes his sonic offering to the voodoo loas of rock ’n’ roll, a listener knows it’s going to be a joyful journey.
The next tune, “Wild Little Rider,” starts off slow, like a sweet Mexican song. There are even marimbas in the background. But then, the sleepy cantina explodes. It’s on this track that The Bloodhounds reveal one of their most lethal weapons, the rave-up harmonica. (Three members are listed in the credits as playing harp, so I’m not sure who is playing on this song.)
On “The Wolf,” the musicians prove that they are perfectly capable of slowing it down to a swampy groove. With Santos playing spooky Hubert Sumlin licks and Piedraita name checking various Howlin’ Wolf song titles, this sounds like “Wang Dang Doodle” for a new generation. There’s one song here that might someday end up as an advertising jingle in, say, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, or Alaska. That’s “Try a Little Reefer,” which features a cool Hammond organ.
Besides their rocking side, The Bloodhounds sometimes slip into jug-band or skiffle mode. On songs like “Dusty Bibles and Silver Spoons,” “Hey Lonnie,” and the goofball “Olderbudwiser,” the group includes instruments like washtub bass, banjo, rub board, spoons, and kazoo. It’s good fun, and I’m a jug-band fan, but with three such tunes on one album, the novelty wears a little thin.
But even with that nitpicking, Let Loose! is a dandy debut. I hope these Bloodhounds keep sniffing.
Here are some other recent punk, garage, gutbucket blues, and rock albums I’ve been enjoying:
* The Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World by John Schooley. It filled my heart with joy to see a new John Schooley album — on Voodoo Rhythm Records, no less. It’s his first since 2007’s One Man Against the World.
Hailing from Austin, Schooley is a venerated pioneer of the punk-blues one-man-band movement. On this album, he plays nearly everything: guitars — electric and otherwise — banjo, and drums, though Austin harmonica player Walter Daniels joins him on several cuts. (Daniels and Schooley have another new album together, Dead Mall Blues, which I just learned about.)
Some cuts sound like crazed blues, while others, like “Cluck Old Hen,” might be bluegrass from the Red Planet. Then there is “Poor Boy Got the K.C. Blues,” in which Schooley sounds like he’s been listening to John Fahey (though Fahey never used drums miked nearly that high).
The title song comes from a great American trouba-dour and legendary drunkard, Charlie Poole. It’s a surreal little hillbilly classic with lyrics like “Oh, she’s my daisy, she’s black-eyed and she’s crazy/The prettiest girl I thought I ever saw/Now her breath smells sweet, but I’d rather smell her feet/She’s my freckle-faced, consumptive Sara Jane.” Schooley and Daniels soup it up into an eardrum blaster, jamming like madmen until the last minute or so. It’s sheer feedback squall. Charlie Poole meets Metal Machine Music. I love it!
O Lendário Chucrobillyman & His Trash Tropical One Band Orquestra. Speaking of one-man bands, this is the new album by Chucrobillyman (real name Klaus Koti), my very favorite Brazilian one-man punk/blues assault team. According to his website, he was “born in the depths of the Amazon jungle, spent his childhood listening to the frenzied roar of the beasts of the forest” and to “old albums of songs from rock-and-roll, blues, post punk, and youthful music.” (That’s from a Google translation of the original Portuguese.)
Truly, this is my kind of youthful music from the jungle. It’s even denser, crazier, and more voodoo-fueled than The Chicken Album, his previous record from Off Label Records (a German company specializing in wild sounds from across the planet). The new album actually has just as many chicken songs (“Chicken Style,” “Chicken Groove,” and “Fried Chicken Blues”) as The Chicken Album.
The poultry-obsessed Chucrobillyman also likes jungle songs. Here we have “Midnight Jungle,” an instrumental featuring wild rhythms and animal noises, and “She Lives in the Jungle,” a spooky blues stomper.
My favorite on Man Monkey is another jungle tune called “The Trip of Kambo.” Kambo refers to a traditional shamanic medicine made from the secretions of a giant monkey frog, which has been used for thousands of years by native tribes in the Amazon. Kambo sounds downright psychedelic with this musical backdrop that reminds me of some of Louisiana hoodoo rocker C.C. Adcock or Tony Joe White’s swampier excursions.
Enjoy some videos, starting with The Bloodhounds live on Halloween
And here they are again.
Here's John Schooley live at Beer Land in Austin, where I saw him play with Walter Daniels and Ralph White a few years ago.
And here's Chucrobillyman playing "Rollercoaster Love."