Mudslide Charley – Words & Bones
Gut Bucket Records
13 songs – 59 minutes
Mudslide Charley are a very interesting band out of Montana, who play rough, raw and raucous blues and roots music. Words & Bones is their fourth album and features 13 tracks of sharply-written, blues-infused, toe-tapping music that really repay close listening.
The band comprises Marco Littig on slide and lead guitar, Phil Hamilton on harmonica, saxophones, guitar and percussion, Lee Rizzo on vocals, rhythm guitars and washboard, Roger Moquin on drums and Tahj Kjelland on bass. Each musician also contributes backing vocals. The majority of the instrumentation is acoustic, other than the occasional electric guitar from Littig. All of the instruments are played, however, with serious attitude and no little abandon.
Lee Rizzo’s voice perfectly complements the rough edge of the music. At times, such as on the live rendition of Son House’s “Death Letter”, she sounds out of control with passion and pain. On other tracks, her voice sounds not dissimilar to Debbie Harry’s with its ostensible dispassion and distance that belies an underlying emotional vulnerability.
A febrile imagination is evident in many tracks. The old Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSanto classic “In The Basement” draws out the call-and-response of the vocal lines and subtly adjusts the rhythmic groove to sound closer to the B-52s, while “Papa’s Coming Home” re-engineers the Bo Diddley sound. The wild 60s jazz-pop of “Liquid Velvet” includes a short bass solo from Kjelland as well the magnificent couplet “I like sugar in my tea. I like honey all over me…. If you walk out that door, who’s gonna be your baby now?” But while there may be hints of pop, jazz, rock or folk in many of the songs, it is the blues that is the foundation stone and the essence of everything on the album.
11 of the 13 tracks on Words & Bones were written by various members of the band. Rizzo contributed the folk-blues-rock of “Holy Man” (which has a fine sax solo from Hamilton) and the gentle pop of “Little Birdie”. Littig wrote three tracks while Hamilton came up with six. The folky blues of Hamilton’s “Southern Don’t Cross The Dog” is particularly impressive with its echoes of Led Zeppelin’s early acoustic explorations and contains the attention-grabbing opening line of “Southern don’t cross the dog in Montana. No night train headed South. It’s a hard, cold ride when you gotta get out. Southern don’t cross the dog in Montana.”
Mudslide Charley have a very distinctive, almost ramshackle sound, one that appears to be constantly teetering on the edge of disaster. But this untamed quality only adds to the band’s charm. Littig and Hamilton both lay down a series of uninhibited but spot-on solos that never forget to serve the song first and foremost, while the rhythm section of Moquin and Kjelland are as comfortable on the rumbling gospel of “Burden”, the quiet restraint of “Jelly Donuts” or the Tom Waits-esque “Devil Can’t Stop The Rain”.
Recorded at Black National Studio in Missoula with engineer, Chris Baumann, Words & Bones is that rare release, offering stone cold blues viewed through a novel prism. Highly recommended.