Why is it that duos make some of the heaviest music? There’s the blistering pop-punk of Vancouver’s Japandroids. There’s the blistering garage-punk of Chicago’s White Mystery. There’s the bass-and-drum assault of Providence’s Lightning Bolt and Seattle’s Big Business, although the latter added a guitar on their last album… and became decidedly less assaultive in the process. There’s the mean-mugging, ear-shattering electro crossover of Justice and Sleigh Bells. There’s Sunn 0))), of course, which will always be two vets toppling Richter scales with reverb, Oren Ambarchi’s synths and Atilla Csihar’s vocal cords notwithstanding. Even the Black Keys and the now-defunct White Stripes cut their teeth on blues-rock muscularity before folding into the hook-savvy mainstream. If Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the patron saints of quiet rock, linked the two-man band format with a delicate touch, then these bands have mounted something of an emphatic counterlegacy.
Root Spirits carry that torch from the modest outpost of Athens, GA, where their equally modest weapon of choice is a stripped-down take on electric blues. Less modest is their brawny, earthy sound, and their current mission, which is to record and release a new track every week on Soundcloud until they get signed to a label. They’re currently at 15. Some are covers, although the latest, the Southern-fried ballad “There’s No Place to Hide”, is an original—and a beast of one, at that. All are free for download and sharing, and all are recorded live, rendering them raw and rugged and yet, absent mixing board flattery, preternaturally robust.
Even on their more refined EP—available for pay-what-you-want download here—what distinguishes them is their tenacious and passionate attack. Danny Arango’s stormy, nimble guitar and equally volatile pipes, and Matt Fiorino’s merciless drumming, form a clenched and veiny phalanx of working class woe evading both the affectlessness (cough, the Keys) and the goofy Mannerism (cough, Wolfmother) seemingly endemic to much likeminded retro roots rock. Not that they are mere practitioners: their takes on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Forty Four” and Lucero’s “No Roses No More” are noisier and more reckless than either original would have dared, and their own “Let Me Stay” is so sludgy it becomes a threat as much as a plea. Ergo, Root Spirits deserves just as much attention from collectors of Hound Dog Taylor bootlegs (you know who you are) as from devotees of doom and dirge (ditto), and, well, just about anybody else who can’t get enough of that heavy, heavy music.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.