Shane Dwight,
A Hundred White Lies
(RTist, 2011)

Sean Chambers Band,
Live from the Long Island Blues Warehouse
(Blue Heart, 2011)

Knowing little if anything of Shane Dwight, a Nashville-dwelling, mostly electric guitarist, I expected A Hundred White Lies to be yet another blues-rock record. I soon learned that blues and rock are certainly present; so, however, are r&b, pop, folk-blues, modern country and confessional singer-songwriter. In fact, the genre bases sometimes seem as if shifting from cut to cut, generating a degree of aural vertigo. Or maybe not; maybe Dwight's is a 21st-century equivalent of a solid, hard-driving guitar-rock band of the kind that flourished between the mid-1960s and the rise of disco in the latter 1970s. Those bands often evinced the influence of the Rolling Stones, and often enough albeit hardly consistently, something like the Stones is what you're hearing here.

It is also apparent that this is a break-up/divorce album, given the wounded quality of many of Dwight's lyrics. (All songs but one are his own.) I figured out that much before I read the promotional material, confirming same, that arrived in the package with the CD. As I know from personal experience (happily, not recently), it's easier to write this variety of sad song when you're suffering this variety of sadness.

Though hardly his intention of course, Dwight speaks to a persistent complaint of mine about the so-called Americana genre, namely that its roots don't go much deeper than 1960/'70s rock. I can't help noticing that for all his genre excavating, there's no rockabilly here. Too '50s, maybe. "I'm Talkin' to You," a pretty good take on Muddy Waters-style Chicago blues, its heyday the same decade, resembles more the recordings (actually, good ones) that Muddy did in the mid- to latter 1970s with Johnny Winter.

Whether a hodge-podge of styles is a good thing or a bad thing, or for that matter whether this really is a hodge-podge of styles, is a matter for each listener to judge. It would not strike me as an especially serious issue if the quality were more consistent; I type subjectively, of course. Your ear, with its own experience and expectations, may tell you differently. Then again, maybe, after all, it's only rock 'n' roll, too easy to take too seriously, in this instance happening to sound modestly more backward-looking than we hear anywhere anymore except in blues-rock outfits -- arguably fueling the needless expectation that this is what Hundred is or must be.

There are some cuts I like a lot (e.g., "Love's Last Letter," where Dwight's slide guitar sizzles and the rhythm dizzies), while others don't do much for me at all (e.g., the opener "The Call"). Dwight's cover of the often-heard "Wagon Wheel" (by Bob Dylan and Kyle Secor) isn't bad, just unexceptional. This is no particular judgment, definitely no sweeping one, on Dwight's singing, playing and writing talents. It's just that I, personally, have a hard time grasping the logic of his approach, which may say nothing more than that pop and rock haven't been part of my life in quite a while and I just don't know how they do it these days. Or, as with so much that happens in this life as the world just keeps spinning into ever greater degrees of oddness in my befuddled eye, maybe it's just that my advice wasn't solicited. (That last is a joke, folks.)

Speaking of Johnny Winter, whose approach to blues -- gritty, grounded, and modern -- I've always found a winning one, I draw to your attention the Sean Chambers Band's in-that-vein Live from the Long Island Blues Warehouse. (The jam that comprises the last cut is fittingly titled "In the Winter Time.") Chambers (guitar, vocalist), Paul Broderick (drums), Tim Blair (bass), and Gary Keith (harmonica) carry the approach forward in capable, amiable fashion.

Chambers's guitar is loud, sometimes very loud, but it's never stupid, and his and the band's love of rocked-up but still tethered-to-the-tradition blues never lets up. If they were somebody else not quite able to tread the righteous path, this could lead us to the insufferable. But this is the Sean Chambers Band, and these guys have come to play the blues with sure hands and good hearts. Besides, this kind of stuff, there to get the party started and the boogie woogie-ing, should be taken live.

music review by
Jerome Clark

5 November 2011

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