Pearlene: Murder Blues and Prayer

Jason MacNeil


Murder Blues and Prayer

Label: Dim Mak
US Release Date: 2003-05-06
UK Release Date: 2003-05-26

Pearlene is a Cincinnati-based group that follows the lines of groups like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and, more recently, the Soledad Brothers. Especially the latter, considering two members of the Soledad Brothers helped round out this album. Led by Reuben Glaser and Jesse Ebaugh, the group's second release of this year might bring the likes of Nick Cave to mind just by looking at the title -- dark yet hopefully redeeming. Regardless, Pearlene cite Blind Willie Johnson and other blues men as influences, and for that, they should be commended, but overall the band works with a sound that is equal parts old and equal parts new. And from the opening rollicking, foot-stomping notes of "You Done Told Everybody", one can't help but think of that Detroit brother and sister/former lover pair that have a seven nation army.

It's easy to enjoy this song simply from the enthusiasm and chutzpah that the band often brings to the fore, whether it's the harmonica interspersed through the tune or the deep boogie blues beat. By the two-minute mark, you are moving some limb in some fashion. It recalls Canadian band Big Sugar's live show, in terms of turns and twists. The spacey blues-instrumental bridge is another high moment before they get back down to business. "A Kiss On The Lips" continues this pattern, only it's rooted far deeper in the '60s Brit-blues sound of Eric Burdon and the Animals. It's beautifully dirty. "Sister my other idiot lover / Wield the knife with the stars painted black", Glaser and Ebaugh harmonize. It's only adds to the band's early luster. The rumble of drummer Hazen Fricke gives it that primal, meaty sound.

"Jinx Blues" has the definitive blues swagger that makes the duo sound like they're twice or three times the age they actually are. The White Stripes is perhaps the most likely comparison on this track, although Pearlene have their own certain spin on things. If there's one deficiency, though, the track tends to bog down later on. "Livin Is…" is a bit too forced, with Pearlene making this swaying blues tune too formulaic. The hook is fine, but they do little else to get the point across. "Girl there's a distance between you and me / It's easy if you got the right moves", the tandem sing before the guitars assuming go wild, but unfortunately they leave a lot to be desired. And what's with having a "Jinx Reprise" as the fifth track? It seems like a waste of time, even if the album clocks in at little over 40 minutes.

"Human Being" comes off a bit better, with a mix of funk and blues that rides the bass line for all it's worth. The "whooo hooo" in the distance only endears the listener to the group, while the Black Crowes-like vibe is buried in the mix. "I Thought You Knew" has a certain Doors-y, vaudeville appeal, with the lyrics being spoken more than sung. "I can't get no sleep around here but you knew what you were getting into", the line goes, with Pearlene appearing as if they're both wiping their mouth after another double. It thankfully improves into a brooding and heavy seventies rock mood. The title track has that rambling Bo Diddley-meets-Yardbyrds element to it, a rolling tune that has all of the band not knowing where it's going but sure as hell along for the pleasing ride. And things go quite wild here, making it an obvious favorite for its seven and a half minutes. Keep it comin' boys!

"One Life" has a southern structure to it while keeping the Mississippi Delta at the heart of the tune. And the tangent they go off on during the track is so, so good before they reel it back in. Even the baby at the end has the blues with their "goo goo gah gah" sounding depressing. "Mutilation Boogie" is a deliberate track that takes its time getting off the ground. It's worth the wait, though, spinning one Brit blues-rock chord after another. It's a bit like Page minus that violin bow. Pearlene are onto something that won't take it to White Stripes chic, but more importantly it should take them just as far in terms of longevity.

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