CD: 11 Songs, 36:36 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Country Blues, Americana
Take a walk with me down Memory Lane, country blues fans. In the 1980’s, one of my favorite bands was Timbuk 3, whose hit “The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)” catapulted them into the stratosphere of the No. 19 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. In the 1990’s, one of my favorite bands was Southern Culture on the Skids (acronym S.C.O.T.S.), with catchy albums featuring tongue-in-cheek titles like Dirt Track Date and Plastic Seat Sweat. If you cross the musical styles of those two ensembles, you’ll get Kansas’ Scotch Hollow and their self-produced sophomore CD, Little Tortuga. It has enough twang and dobro/slide guitar to be considered country, and enough traditional covers (Little Walter’s “Nobody but You”, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moaning at Midnight” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning”) to be considered blues. Purists, I know what you’re thinking: “Three out of eleven? Phfft.” Don’t knock Scotch Hollow ‘til you’ve tried them. Their original lyrics alone merit one listen. With two, you’ll fall in love. This ensemble is great at harmony and humor.
Their promotional information sheet provides this album’s background story: “Scotch Hollow’s Little Tortuga was written while living on [lead vocalist Carley] Martin’s family farm in rural Kansas. Totally isolated from civilization, they occasionally came across a larger-than-life turtle, old as hell, weathered, and missing an eye. He was dubbed Little Tortuga. The songs were written on a back porch [while the band was] on a back porch watching for deer, turkeys, rescuing kittens, and listening to coyotes.” When it comes to composing music, atmosphere is key. I don’t suppose this quirky quartet could have written “Bamma Lamma Jamma and Thelonious Dude” (reviewed below) while smack in the middle of New York City.
Scotch Hollow consists of Mark Verbeck on guitar, JD Linn on bass, Carley Martin on lead vocals, and Ben Scholz on drums. Special guests include Brody Buster on harmonica and Joel Schuman on piano.
The following three songs are the most memorable, whether blues, country, or both at once.
Track 02: “Kansas City Pepper” – Clocking in at an all-too-short two minutes flat, this boogie will get everyone, city slickers and country folks alike, out on the dance floor. “Hell, baby, tell me what’s wrong with you!” Carley Martin growls like Linda Ronstadt if she’d imbibed lots of cigarettes and whiskey. “You’d better quit your jivin’, talking the way you do.” Every instrumental solo in this song kills – piano, harmonica, and guitar. Yow!
Track 04: “Too Bad Poor Boy” – Listen up and listen fast, because the lyrics here sound like they’ve been shot from an AK-47. It’s the hilarious tale of an impoverished imbecile: “Sitting back in my rocking chair in my dirty old Fruit of the Loom underwear, one hand on my beer keg, my big mouth eating on a chicken leg.” Guess where he ends up? “Now I’m sitting here in my jail cell with my new good buddy – Bubba Dumbbell!” Great slide guitar here.
Track 08: “Bamma Lamma Jamma and Thelonious Dude” – This number sounds like it was penned by Too Slim and the Taildraggers, especially the intro. It’s the most traditional-sounding tune on the album, despite the misplaced vigor with which the band says “s***-eating smile.” “Bamma Lamma Jamma and Thelonious Dude gonna eat all the chicken without being rude,” they proclaim. How these characters will manage to pull that off, I can’t imagine, but you might.
Shock Hollow and Little Tortuga provide good old, gritty country blues!