Portland, Oregon, might seem a long way to go for a Baltimore, Maryland, based independent band to record a new CD. And one wouldn’t likely expect such swampedelic, southern boogie to emanate from the grungy Pacific Northwest. But that is exactly the case with National Bohemian, the new 11-track CD from The Bridge, who traveled to Portland’s Jackpot Recording Studio, enlisting the guidance of Los Lobos’ muliti-instrumentalist and producer Steve Berlin to helm the sessions.
Though the title makes reference to Maryland’s lost microbrew, it more directly alludes to the traveling artistic lifestyle that young bands endure early in their careers. The haunting “Sanctuary”, a co-write with Berlin, finds a nomadic soul wandering many miles, carrying holy water and blessing newborn babies, all the while searching for his own sanctuary. Chris Jacobs’ vocals ache with woe, while ragged guitar, deeply resonating saxophone and haunting vibes create a vaporous mood. And mandolin player/vocalist Kenny Liner’s “Chavez” is equally spiritually evocative, rendering a circling scavenger overhead of a lost soul wandering in a baron desert. Despite the eerie lyrical tone, it’s got an upbeat tempo driven by a western noir styled guitar.
There’s a strong balance of songs between Liner and Jacobs and in that way, this is Liner’s best effort as a songwriter yet. With a synthetic beat keeping time, surging synthesizer and woeful mandolin, “Moonlight Mission” is an eerie, harrowing murder ballad, with the protagonist taking the life of an adulterer messing with his woman. On the other hand, Jacobs’ “Colorado Motel” takes the view of a man running away from a married woman, searching for rest and mercy from the sin of being the adulterer. It’s the most melodic and catchy song, drenched in swelling organ, hand claps, mandolin and saxophone, and he drops a reference to Robert Earl Keen’s “Walking Cane” with the line, “hand me down my walking cane, my sins have overtaken me”. His aching yet heartfelt singing on the bridge relays passion and love:
“Well I should’ve known better than to think it would ever get her off of my mind. I’ve never been the forgetting kind”.
On a lighter note, “Geraldine” finds Liner back on New Orleans streets, prancing along in Second Line form with the help of sensual saxophone from Patrick Rainey and a choir of voices singing the praises of an older woman. “Rosie” is a flat out, funky barn-burner with wailing sax and a multi-voiced choir belting out the chorus. But Jacobs is an excellent balladeer as well, as evidenced on the soulful, weeping pedal steel guitar kissed “Long Way To Climb”, or the elegantly poetic, mandolin dappled acoustic closer “Dirt On My Hands”.
There’s always been a New Orleans swagger in the music of The Bridge, due mainly to the resemblance of vocalist/guitarist Chris Jacobs’ voice to that of Little Feet’s Lowell George. But National Bohemian is sea-salt soaked through, like a gulf breeze blowing in over the Louisiana swampland, from the opening notes of the haunting, first track “Sanctuary”, through the tender, beautiful closing ballad “Dirt On My Hands”.