Love & Life creates a continuous buzz that often translates into a very deep groove or the sound of a persistent rumble.
Like many revivalist rockers, Ted Drozdowski has his own unique take on the blues. While his music takes its cue from the swampy environs of the Mississippi Delta, his sound and style create a weird pastiche overlaid with thick reams of atmospheric ambiance. Then again, its origins almost ensured there would be a little bit of strangeness in the mix; recorded in a tent pitched on a dirt road atop a mountain in rural Tennessee, Love & Life creates a continuous buzz (literally, as in the case of the guitar/drums boogie “Can’t Be Satisfied”) that often translates into a very deep groove or the sound of a persistent rumble.
Nevertheless, despite Drozdowski’s often avant-garde approach (think Captain Beefheart in a pow wow with Tom Waits), he and the Scissormen -- drummer Matt Snow and bassist Marshall Dunn -- find inspiration in traditional trappings. Drozdowski takes an informed approach -- after all, when he’s not making music, he’s an award-winning music journalist and educator who’s about to publish the first in a series of e-books wryly entitled Obsessions of a Music Geek, Vol. 1: Blues Guitar Giants -- and he frequently references famous friends and mentors. The loping blues of “Watermelon Kid” pays homage to venerable bluesman Watermelon Slim, while the roustabout groove of “R.L. Burnside (Sleight Return)” takes a bow to that song’s equally revered namesake.
Mostly though, the Scissormen take an alternate route, one that guides them through swampier environs despite straight-ahead intents. The riveting opener “Beggin’ Jesus” displays ominous intentions, while the somber shuffle that underscores “Letter From Hell” also fosters eerie implications. Drozdowski makes a sound that puts him mostly in a menacing mode, and as a result, there’s a dark, dank feeling that pervades the album overall. It’s a trippy mindset fed by acid-laced guitars and a feeling of cacophony that lands just this side of calamity. Take, for example, the banshee wail of “The River” which starts somewhat stealth-like before erupting into wanton recklessness. Or the calculated crunch of a song like “Lived to Tell”. Even the more dignified entries can’t avoid the bizarre effect that comes with Drozdowski’s ironic imagery.
That’s just fine. Ever since the late ‘60s, most white folks who remade the blues took the liberty of creating a rock-relevant stance that brought it well beyond the slow moan of rural realms and the urban core of inner city practitioners. Yet even those who diverged from the template and opted for a more psychedelic diversion -- think bands like Cream, Ten Years After, Taste and, of course, the Jimi Hendrix Experience -- never abandoned the basic blues template entirely, showing then a reverence that was both admirable and intrinsic.
Granted, Drozdowki and his colleagues retain a reverence that belies their insurgent stance, but like their aforementioned predecessors, they also exercise eccentricity in the process. That adds interest of course, but also points to the fact that for all his offbeat insurgency, he’s both an innovator and interpreter all at the same time. Love & Life may not be to everyone’s liking, but once experienced, it’s still a hard album to ignore.