The gap from the streets to the studio didn't have to be a long one for this fiery and soulful San Francisco blues-rock duo.
The Ferocious Few's Juices might not be the MVP of blues-rock releases, but it stands a hell of a chance to win some kind of award for Most Exciting Player. Weighing in at 15 tracks scattered over just about 35 minutes, every second of Juices radiates the kind of booze-soaked, scrappy, ultra-lo-fi aura that feels like it's not so much delivered on a CD as it is sent rattling all the way to your ears from a street corner in the band's native San Francisco.
Daniel Aguilar and Francisco Fernandez crafted their sound on the street. Their new release on Birdman Records makes no qualms about letting that show in an era when many of the Ferocious Few's garage-duo peers have moved on to bigger and more production-heavy pastures after feeling the heady effects of their genre's recent revival.
Juices is fast, noisy, and by no means perfect, but as its tracks rush past curling country fire and soul-tinged brimstone it's hard not to want to roll down the windows and ride along, troubles be damned. That muscular big-block feel is most evident on songs like “Loc'd Out” and “Kathleen”. The latter is a red-blooded bit of skirt-chasing featuring a shimmering organ line that slices in and out of the the interlocked guitar and pounding drums. It's simply built and raw and would be pretty much indistinguistable from any other “beauty queen / finest girl I ever seen” barroom staple if not for the fact that it, like much of Juices, finds a way to cram a setlist full of energy into about two minutes of run time.
What really makes these songs work is the way Fernandez's sun-cracked drawl cuts through against the album's steady pound and rasp. He's often able to turn on a dime, going from completely unintelligible soul-preaching to razor sharpness just in time to wring the right emotion from a given lyric. There are moments, such as on “As The Days Go By”, when he starts to sound a little like Chris Cornell did back in his Soundgarden days, and others (like “Crazy Love”) that swing closer to Dylanesque ramble-folking. The haunting whistled choruses on “Cryin' Shame”, played against the dripping blood, crimson sunsets and rueful heartache of the lyrics, make it a standout among its many peers.
Fernandez's delivery starts to wear out a bit as Juices presses on, as on “Sawblades”, when resonant piano chords join in the mix, or “Anywhere in Love”, which plays out like a bizarro blues version of something that might have been written by the early Beatles. This is a classic case of a band that's trying to show off everything they can do when they would probably be better off focusing on their evident strengths.
When Juices runs into moments of trouble, it's occasionally to do with the recording itself rather than with the band. Yes, this is the lowest of lo-fi, and hearing Juices really captures the unique feeling of being surprised by a little-known band in a smoke-filled bar at a dusty crossroads, but one gets the sense that the fire the Few have on tap would benefit from just a tiny bit more polish despite the band's wise choice to skip out on full-fledged luxury detailing. The occasional spurt of superfluous echo effect pops up on certain tracks, and Aguilar's steady one-two-punching battery sometimes sounds muffled, as if it had been recorded down the block from the epicentre of the Few's sound. Thankfully, these problems don't rear their heads often enough to become a distraction.
After nearly starting us dancing in the pews on the album's most explicitly soulful track, the aptly named "Lord O Lord", Juices closes with the acoustic ballad “16th Street”. It's a charming unplugged coda to the half hour of sweltering Southwest soul that precedes it, and yet it doesn't feel an inch out of place in the Few's repertoire. It's to the band's credit that they can make the blood and guts of blues self-evident, rather than letting the music turn into something that's about who can scrawl out the twistiest solos.
The Ferocious Few manage to do their hometown street corner proud on Juices. They've done everything they can to squeeze the undiluted energy of their live work ethic onto a little plastic disc. While it occasionally shows cracks around the edges, the band should be given credit for injecting some old-school soul back into the blues-rock bloodstream.