PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer: A Real Fine Mess

This is a streamlined collection of a standard sound with some sonic detours into pop territory, and it draws inspiration from both the classic and the contemporary styles of blues.

The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer

A Real Fine Mess

Label: Tonic / Universal
US Release Date: 2014-06-17
UK Release Date: Import
Artist website

The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer is a most unusual name, and perhaps even more so for a blues-based outfit. However, the only thing getting murdered is that axe: the guitar, and in a good way. This is a Canadian West Coast outfit that consists of Shawn "The Harpoonist" Hall and Matthew "The Axe Murderer" Rogers and, man, can they shred. However, their third album, A Real Fine Mess is actually more blues pop-rock than pure blues, and has moments of soul music, courtesy of backup female singers. Blues purists may snivel their nose at this sort of stuff, but A Real Fine Mess is a burning, energetic album wall to wall with material that will lodge deep inside your head. This will probably be the duo's breakout album, and, according to the publicist I conversed with, they absolutely kill live. I would believe it because the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer bring an off-the-floor kind of feel to the album, while polishing down the rough edges. This is an album that's honed for pure pop perfection. It's a real blues kitchen with all sorts of ingredients in the pan.

What makes this album so refreshing is that it doesn't strictly adhere to a standard blues formula all the time. "Feel Me Now" is an outright soul number with a bouncy piano riff, and it sort of reminds me, a little bit, like something from the '70s Frankie Valli songbook, buoyed in part by some stunning falsetto vocals. It's probably the real highlight of the album, and there's nothing really remotely bluesy about it, save perhaps for the song's intro, which features blistering harmonica playing. "My Paradise", meanwhile, sounds a little like the old rock chestnut "Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, just again with more of a soul edge – I guess making it nestle a lot closer to the Tina Turner cover version. There's also a funky synth breakdown that lasts for about four bars that's quite something too, and you wish that the group rode that line a little more. On the other hand, "Sweat This Pain" is a funky little rock ditty, and it seems a bit Danko Jones-ish. I dare you to not tap your toe to this. I even hear a little bit of Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love" in the track, too. "Mama's in the Backseat" is a bit of a rockabilly number, and is absolutely scorching when the harmonica and fuzzy guitars kick in. And what writer could ignore album closer "A Real Fine Noise", which it is – it feels a lot like '70s AM gold, and is another example of stellar songwriting with a midsection that even sounds remotely John Lennon-ish.

However, there's plenty of good ol' fashioned blues for those who like that sort of thing. The album opens with a trifecta of bluesy numbers, from the Rolling Stones-baiting "Black and Blue", which features some pretty nimble guitar playing, to the slow burning "Do Whatcha", which has some mean harmonica, to the poppy and infectious "Tea for Two". Elsewhere, "Cry a Little" is a much more standard blues number with a shuffling beat, and dang if that harmonica playing doesn't make the song. "Act Your Age" is a rollicking number, kept afloat by a thudding beat and sweet female backing vocals. "In and Out of Love" has a shuffling country rock feel to it, but it's peppered by that strong harmonica playing by Hall, it turns out, and there's no surprise that he was nominated for Harmonica Player of the Year at the Maple Blues Awards last year. So there's plenty for those who are more traditionalists to a blues approach, but there's also more poppy numbers for those who want to make the blues more accessible to them.

If anything, the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer will garner comparisons to the Black Keys, though the former isn't really as garage based as the latter. A Real Fine Mess is a slick, radio-friendly production. It's essentially a musician's and songwriter's showcase of what can be accomplished with an arsenal of great songs that run the gamut of a variety of styles and feels. It's also a very crowd pleasing album, and you listen to this and can almost close your eyes and hear this duo playing live in front of you. Whatever energy this group brings the blues festival stages and clubs is evident throughout A Real Fine Mess and it is hardly a mess at all. This is a streamlined collection of a standard sound with some sonic detours into pop territory, and it draws inspiration from both the classic and the contemporary styles of blues. There's even a song on this record called "Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To". This album has fourteen examples that, maybe, sometimes they do. In the end, A Real Fine Mess is stand-up stuff, and the group has a bracing challenge ahead of them following up this exemplary act.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.