Ruf Records RUF 1230
11 songs – 51 minutes
Formed in San Francisco by musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans 10 years ago and delivering roots-infused blues that simmers relentlessly without ever boiling over, the Honey Island Swamp Band has cooked up a gumbo for the ages with Demolition Day.
Recorded in New Orleans in analog format on 2-in. audio tape and produced by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, the album is thoroughly modern in approach, but comes across with an old-time feel. It’s the band’s debut on German-based Ruf Records and a follow-up to their 2013 album, Cane Sugar. The fifth release in their catalog, it features music that reminds some listeners of The Band, Little Feat or the Allman Brothers in a style that’s become known as “bayou Americana.”
No one gets credited in the literature for this disc, but the Honey Island lineup includes Aaron Wilkinson on mandolin, guitar and harmonica, Chris Mulé on guitar, Sam Price on bass and Garland Paul on drums, all of whom handle vocals, as well as Trevor Brooks on keyboards. They’re augmented by several other Gulf Coast artists, including Tab Benoit on pedal steel and Ivan Neville on the 88s, and probably others.
But it’s really a group effort. The ensemble works seamlessly with solos throughout, but everything is in perfect balance within the framework of each song. All 11 of the tunes are original, composed either by Wilkinson and/or Mulé, and like the album title and artwork suggest, several deal with a sense of loss. But the message is laid atop music sure to keep you on the dance floor.
The emotions flow like the Mississippi from the start with “How Do You Feel,” a driving bluesy rocker that questions your feelings when “your baby’s gone/And you’re all alone/Don’t know what’s real.” Next up, “Head High Water Blues” percolates steadily as it alludes to a city under siege and delivers the lyric that makes up the album title.
“No Easy Way” begins as dirge, but quickly picks up speed into a fast shuffle. It’s loaded with images that eventually lead to the realization that the singer’s lady is cheating and that he’s going to have to start all over again. A regimented drumbeat introduces “Medicated,” which carries the broken-heart theme forward, before the upbeat and funky “Watch And Chain” offers emotional relief. The title refers to the way a new lady treats the singer. It’s a love song that states “she’ll wind me up and run me down again/Spin me ‘round just like a hurricane” – in a good way for a change.
“Katie,” another love song, follows. It’s an acoustic number that recounts meeting the woman on Bourbon Street and yearns for her “lovin’ every night and day,” while “Ain’t No Fun” is an electrified slide-guitar Southern rocker about being schooled relentlessly by a lady and feeling like a fool, but still wanting to be her backdoor man. Another fingerpicked acoustic number with a New Orleans feel, “She Goes Crazy,” is up next. This time, the lady’s a real firecracker who always delivers exactly when her man needs, making her craziness all right.
A solitary guitar line introduces the swamp-flavored “Through Another Day” before the full band gets involved. It’s filled with descriptions of the river as it recounts a first meeting with a new love. Emotions are dashed again in “Say It Isn’t True,” as it describes the realization that a man’s mistakes have driven his lady away. The album comes concludes with “Devil’s Den,” a plea for mercy after being beaten down to the bottom.
Demolition Day simply breezes by like a warm breeze on a sunny afternoon. Despite its 51-minute run, it’s over before you know it and leaves you wanting more. Available just about everywhere, and highly recommended.