PopMatters home | short takes home | archives
PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
29 March 2004
Taxi Chain, Smarten Up! (Northern Blues)
Blues with bagpipes? There's no way that can work, you tell yourself. But then you listen to Taxi Chain and think, "Well, on second thought..." Taxi Chain are, for all practical purposes, a blues band -- and they do have a bagpipe. Taxi Chain are also on the young Northern Blues label,which is fast becoming known for its unique take on the blues. If Taxi Chain approach the blues, it's from an R&B-fueled Van Morrisonesque perspective. One listen to the warm horns on "Memphis" or the shuffle of "Cut Me a Key" will definitely clue you in that Taxi Chain's blues aren't of the 12-bar variety. Heck, "It's Your Birthday" boasts backing that wouldn't sound out of place on a Tom Waits song (that Waits vibe also rears its scruffy head in "Buck a Joy"). And what about that bagpipe? Well, it shows up in fine form on a couple of traditional instrumental reels, the intriguingly Eastern-flavored "Tandoori Mustache", and the groove-oriented "James Brown Ate My Bagpipe". Vocalist Grier Coppins at times takes on a Bono-like croon, especially on the standout "Memphis". As enjoyable as Taxi Chain are to listen to, though, you definitely feel a note of truth when the liner notes and press kit rave about the live show. You can tell this is a band that can get a crowd moving, and that they're probably holding back a bit on record.
Canadians have their own spin on "the blues", or so it would seem if judging by Taxi Chain. A quintet that might sound better in any country bar in South Ontario, they pump out dark quirky stories over old R&B based style, often accompanied by the skirl of bagpipes. Lyrically, there's a hint the group drew major inspiration from an early incarnation of Tom Waits. Their ode "Memphis" is a paean to the underside of the city, quite the other side of Chuck Berry's song of the same name. The purposefully simplistic sound of rock 'n' roll (drums and organ) opposes the rather distressed themes presented in the opening lyrics: "Martin Luther King was shot / Elvis Presley got his start in Memphis / The Mississippi mud runs thick / Jeff Buckley did attest to it in Memphis". Fond of the conceit, they reprise the tune as an instrumental closer. With titles like "James Brown Ate My Bagpipe" and "Tandoori Mustache", suspicion is that Taxi Chain are out to have a bit of fun. Dreaming up shuffling tunes and bright accents that clash with lyric content might become their specialty, like the easy slink of "It's Your Birthday", celebrating the natal day of a very bad boy. Seems Taxi Chain would like to play with your head.
.: posted by Editor 5:38 PM