[9 October 2006]
I’ll forgive you for not realizing country blues could be comfortably married to Eastern music, because I never would’ve thought of that pairing either. Fortunately, the Brass Kings did, and their self-titled release presents the offspring of this unexpected coupling of genres. What’s most impressive is that the strange sounds on this disc come from a very scaled-back band: songwriter Steve Kaul on guitar and vocals, Mikkel Beckmen on washboard and various makeshift percussion, and Brad Ptacek on washtub bass. The trio create some especially rhythmic music, all of which is very listenable and pleasant, but the real highlights wind up being the instrumentals (the Indian-sounding “Lead Feet” and the happy closer “Way Back Home”) and the songs that delve into the sounds of the Middle East. The grim “Heavy Hands”, the car tribute “Dynaflow”, and a condemnation of religious wingnuts, “Gone Astray”, all stretch past the five-minute mark and allow for some serious globetrotting. Some of the more straightforward blues numbers are pretty decent, too: “One Eyed Man” is a good ol’ primitive stomp, and “Boxman Blues” slows things down toward the end of the record. Kaul’s lyrics are a mixture of old-fashioned storytelling (with modern subject matter like meth labs and drug deals), social commentary, and traditional blues motifs. The lyrics may be the weakest part of the album, but only in places, and only because I often found myself wanting the focus to stay on the instruments. During the longer instrumental passages, the Brass Kings conjure up a unique multicultural musical fusion, one that sounds like very little of what gets labeled “Americana”. And thank goodness for that.