Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Poor Until Payday
Thirty Tigers/Family Owned Records
In the excellent documentary Harlem Street Singer: The Reverend Gary Davis Story the film’s co-producer, and Davis disciple, guitarist Woody Mann explains the good Reverend’s virtuoso talent to play with a wider array of technique and musical language then his Country Blues contemporaries. This description also applies to another reverend: Reverend Peyton. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band’s new record Poor Until Payday highlights this array of technique and musical language with its rollicking, diverse, juxtaposition between old-timey form, modern rhythmic invention and pure individual expression.
The Big Damn Band is: Reverend Peyton playing fully realized fingerstyle and slide guitar, harmonica and lead vocals; the Rev.’s wife Washboard Breezy Peyton playing, well, washboard and vocals; and, Maxwell Senteney on drums and vocals. Like a modern version of Blind Willie Johnson and Willie B. Harris, Mister and Misses Peyton have been developing their brand of interlocking Blues, with a number of different drummers, for over a decade. The Rev. is fully versed in every style of Country Blues picking and has evolved his style over the years from devoted traditionalist to post-modern slide impressionist. Washboard Breezy Peyton is an impassioned singer punctuating her husband’s barrel-chested vocals with soaring accent while also adding a jagged funked up metallic syncopation on the board. Washboard Breezy and Senteney lock in. Senteney is a bit more nuanced then some of the former Big Damn drummers, adding a touch more finesse, breadth and depth to the rhythm.
Poor Until Payday is an artistic leap forward. Most of the Peytons’ records have been in the trio format, recorded either live to tape or with minimal studio trickery and feature mostly original material, a feat for such a specific sub-genera as Country Blues. Payday’s 10 original songs were recorded using old analog equipment and completely live; business as usual for the Big Damn Band. The artistically defining step on this record is the performances and the diversity of mood and style. The rhythm section dynamically rolls and tumbles creating a complementary foundation for The Rev.’s inspired picking. The Rev. sings with more definition and clarity then on past outings. He has opened up his vibrato colored pipes; more soulful and less fire and brimstone hysterics, while still maintaining his intensity.
Poor Until Payday’s artistic leaps also reverberate by culminating all the Country Blues inventions that Peyton has come up with in his career. There are hard driving stompers, indicative of 2012’s Between the Ditches, like “Me and the Devil,” a dark menacing warning that the narrator and the Devil are coming after you and “if I get you first, it will be worse.” There are Gospel reveals, a la The Gospel Album, like “You Can’t Steal My Shine.” “Church Clothes” is a meditative finger picked acoustic Blues evolving from the band’s early work as well as Peyton’s in-depth investigations of Charlie Patton. With each motif there is a new level of maturity and fluid sense of purpose.
The most impressive songs on Payday are the ones that shouldn’t really work. These are up beat, wordy, raucous shake downs that are enviably difficult to deliver with clarity and precision. And are they ever delivered. The title track is an Elmore James styled shuffle with repeated lyrics that burble up above the cacophony. The manic zoom of “Get The Family Together,” breathlessly asking why do families only get together at funerals, perfectly relates the urgency of being with the people you love. “Frenchman Street” second lines itself down the road singing the praises of the Big Easy over an intricate guitar performance that is almost impossible to imagine being performed live while singing.
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band are road dogs. Often playing upwards of 300 shows a year, this hard driving band has forged it’s style through laborious repetition. Staying singularly focused on their artistic drive and allowing their music to bloom and grow, the Peytons have been able to maintain and nurture the joy of making music with family. If you are a fan, Poor Until Payday is a major payday for your years of devotion. If you are new to these artists, Payday is a great entry point to a world of infectiously feel-good music.