Ted Drozdowski – Coyote Motel
Dolly Sez Woof
10 songs/38 minutes
Ted Drozdowski is an abstract Bluesman. A disciple of RL Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill and Mighty Sam McClain, all of whom he had relationships with. But Drozdowski’s music in his former band Scissormen, his solo offerings and in this new incarnation Coyote Motel (both the name of the record and the new band) is not a tradition skewed nostalgia exercise. There is vibrant tightrope chances being taken and reckless sonic abandon. Music more akin to the experimental abstractions of Sonic Youth or Morphine but with those bands pop-wise sensibilities exchanged for a greasy Blues aesthetic.
Drozdowski cites polarized influences of Muddy Waters and Daniel Lanois, Lonnie Mack and Sonny Sharrock as touchstones for his music. This tension plays out on Coyote Motel, where locked in riffage and straight forward vocals sit nestled within atmospheric layers of guitar and ethereal background vocals. Bandmates Sean Zywick on bass and Kyra Curenton on drums are augmented by Laurie Hoffma on keyboards, Pete Pulkrabek on drums and Luella (Melissa Mathes) contributing those ethereal background vocals. The result of this relatively short list of collaborators is a concise and focused album with a clear unified vision and sound.
The basic sonic rubric of Coyote Motel is clean snappy drums and bass placed in a warm immediate room, reverb washed layers of ragged loosely distorted guitar and Drozdowski’s nasally plain spoken vocals. Many of the songs jump with an agitated punk rhythm. “Josh Gibson” is a 12-bar Blues, about an early African American trailblazer in baseball, with a hard minor rif that gives way to disorienting major IV and V chords. The ode to RL Burnside and Northern Mississippi, “Down in Chulahoma,” pummels with bombast and power chord abandon, far removed from the hypnotic endless boogie of that region but, in part due to the eccentric slide work, still somehow perfectly in step. “Jimmy Brown,” sounds like an outtake from a Black Flag record with pinch harmonics and breathless urgent vocals that perfectly deliver this confrontation to institutional racism.
Coyote Motel is not all urgency and adrenaline, some of the songs grind. Opener “Still Among the Living” is a slow thoughtful meditation on drug abuse and the costs of addiction. The spooky lament “My Friend” deals with Ted’s loss of friend Sam McClain with ascending heartrending finger picking. The “Fever” inspired “57 Flavors” is a cool swing about modern geopolitical problems. And most affecting is the cover of Bob Geddins’, by way of Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Tin Pan Alley.” Taking the 12 bar form and adding layers of guitar melody and harmony, Drozdowski reinterprets the slow Blues as orchestrated noise-rock.
Drozdowski is a slide guitarist. On previous recordings he has displayed fiery, mostly traditional, chops. Coyote Motel is a major step forward for this thoughtful and convention pushing artist. He has opened up his sonic palette, allowing more space and air into the recording production, making the music live in a space (in a room) instead of being immediately in the listener’s ear. He has also developed his playing to more fully embrace one of his influences, the free jazz pioneer guitarist Sonny Sharrock. Many solos (especially on “Down in Chulahoma” and “Trouble”) utilize chromatic flights of fancy and borderline a-tonal noise. Like all of the seemingly in-congruent elements of Coyote Motel, this works and fits perfectly.
The depth and layering of this record rewards multiple listens and endures as time goes on. Highly recommended for the listener who is searching for a new non-traditional real deal Blues experience.