[10 July 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Painkillers is a blues album. It is also a covers album. The product of punk blues duo Left Lane Cruiser and Black Diamond Heavies’ keyboardist and singer James Leg (with Jim Diamond on bass and 66-year-old bluesman Harmonica Shah on harp both along for the ride), Painkillers is a smattering of 10 tunes dabbed in greasy sweat and doused with an oilcan of gasoline. Together, Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg ramble through blues gems either written by or popularized by such old time greats as John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon and rock heavyweights such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and, uh, Bob Seger. And, generally, it is a pretty great trip. Part of the reason why Painkillers works so well is that the players clearly have a reverence for the material they’re taking on, but not so much that they’re out to merely give rote readings of the songs. Thus, we get a version of Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” with deep growly vocals sounding as though the band gave Lucifer a phone call to join them in the studio, and it is delightfully fun to hear. Elsewhere, the band lays down the grit so well that “Red Rooster” has a certain rock swagger to it that’s fun to shake one’s tail to.
However, all is not truly incendiary with Painkillers. The group leaves their takes on Zep’s “When the Levee Breaks” and “Sway”, which the Stones popularized, for the very end of the record, and they sound almost anemic in comparison to the originals, as though this group simply ran out of gas. Plus, when you take on something as monumentally well known as “Levee”, you’re bound to stumble because the Led Zeppelin version is so ingrained in the popular consciousness that any cover version is bound to pale in comparison. So, Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg (and friends) might have been better served taking on perhaps a little bit lesser known material to truly make it their own. That said, Painkillers is a great little album that merges rock, punk and the blues fairly well, and, if you didn’t know that it was an all-covers disc, you may have been come away feeling that these were all originals, which is perhaps its greatest asset. Painkillers doesn’t fully take away the throb of one’s aches and pains, but it’s a refreshing little platter that should introduce a new audience to some really great material. Bob Seger notwithstanding.