“Black Diamond Heavies are the heavyweight champs! My boys can’t beat ’em, so we might as well join ’em!” — Johnny Walker
In Covington, Kentucky, not far from the banks of the Ohio River, stands a Civil War-era Masonic Lodge. The “Lodge”, as its denizens simply refer to it, is where former Soledad Brothers’ frontman Johnny Walker and his new outfit Cut in the Hill Gang holed up. Walker’s place has a ballroom-cum-flat which holds regular gigs and where, on one “hot-ass night” last July, the feral blues-rock duo Black Diamond Heavies decided to record their third long player, Alive As Fuck. The title says it all.
This is a warts ‘n’ all high-energy party album. Glasses clink, the crowd whoops it up. Damn, you can almost hear dripping sweat. Eight of the nine greasy blues-rock jams were culled from the self-described Southern punk-ass blues band’s two critically acclaimed releases, 2007’s Every Damn Time and the following year’s A Touch of Someone Else’s Class. They were played straight into Walker’s tape machine, alongside Reuben Glaser on mixing duties; minimal production, maximum R&B, minus guitars. But then, who needs ’em when you’ve got John Wesley Myers, a son of a Baptist minister, growling out lyrics with a voice that sounds as if he used to gargle with grit as a kid and laying down snaking psych-blues runs through a distortion pedal on his Fender Rhodes piano as his partner in crime, sticksman Van Campbell, pummels out a stomping, rhythmic foundation with controlled jackhammer intensity, verging on cymbal abuse as he creates a shattering, percussive deluge.
The set opens with two conventional blues numbers getting the full-on Black Diamond Heavies experience. The opener is a squalling psych-blues version of labelmate T-Model Ford’s “Take a Ride With Me”, from his 2000 Fat Possum release She Ain’t None Of Your’n. It also appeared on the band’s second outing. Myers’ bottom-feeding howl turns a simple plea for some all-night lovin’ into something that sounds far more sinister. It’s followed by a lascivious blues traditional “Hambone”, which is brought back to resplendent life through a fuzzed-out haze of febrile organ and pounding drums.
Revisiting past glories, the boys stretch them like taffy to create tight ‘n’ loose blues jams. Two highlights from their debut, the anti-coke treatise “White Bitch” and R&B stomper “Fever in the Blood”, with an outro lyrical reference to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”, are led out to the crossroads by what sounds like a Bolivian marching band of one. Album number two kicks up a further three tracks. There’s “Loose Yourself”, a bone-rattling hard ‘n’ heavy slab of ’70s Southern blues rock; “Happy Hour”, a key-pounding barroom blues that recalls Howlin’ Wolf; and the change-of-pace tune “Bidin’ My Time”, a bluesy ballad which resembles, a little too closely for its own good, mid-’70s-era Tom Waits. Nevertheless, if you thought Black Diamond Heavies were righteously wild on their two studio albums, you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet, y’all.