Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
The problem with a lot of contemporary blues, whether it's Junior Wells or Dave Hole, is that it seems almost hidebound by tradition.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a white trash trio from New York whose leader established his reputation with Eighties noise pioneers Pussy Galore, render the blues so idiosyncratically as to defy their own nomenclature. Following three albums on various American and European labels, including the 'bootleg' Reverse Willy Horton, Melbourne’s Au-Go-Go Records now releases locally not only last year's definitive Extra Width, but also Mo’ Width, an Australia-only companion volume. Au-Go-Go was, of course, the label that first licensed Sonic Youth and Mudhoney in this country. Will the Blues Explosion go on now in the same style as those bands? Listen and see.
In common with Hound Dog Taylor and the Cramps, the Blues Explosion boasts a bass-less line-up of two guitars and drums, and indeed, sounds not unlike a meeting of those two antecedents. Or like Captain Beefheart's Magic Band or even the Beasts Of Bourbon - a jagged, ragged, dismembered re-reading of country/blues/soul (Booker T. and the MGs) roots. If, however, studied atonality amounts to merely the veneer of modernism, this is still much more creative as guitar music than the essentially retro grunge orthodoxy, and refreshing and fun for it. A world full of fried chicken, rice and beans and go-go girls is immensely appealing, after all.
The absence of bass is not always effective, but mostly it is, as Spencer and Judah Bauer, on alternatively interlocking or divergent guitars, find ways around it. Both culled from the same Memphis sessions, Extra Width and Mo’ Width both got things going for them. The coherent, concentrated attack of Extra Width is its strength, while Mo’ Width takes more of the sidetracks and backroads. A version of Otis Redding's "Ole Man Trouble" is all but unrecognisable, though the all-time classic country drinking song "There Stands the Glass" is relatively faithfully interpreted: that is, as sloppily as a drunk. Both albums open with a track called “Afro,” the band augmented on Mo’ Width by Hammond organ, but superior on Extra Width for its typically tighter focus and crisper dynamic – not to mention totally dementoid guitar solo. Guitarscapes like that on Extra Width’s “Big Road” are simply sensational. “Soul Typecast,” the band’s most obviously appealing song with its ridiculously intoxicating medium-tempo groove is, in turn, reworked to superior effect on Mo’ Width. So, what you lose on the merry-go-round you gain on the ferris wheel.
But the best part is that there’s nary a trace of irony – the flavor of the age? – to be found here. When these guys preach their blues, they mean it, man. As they exhort, Turn your stereo up!