MAPL/Kool Kat Records
CD: 13 Songs, 44:49 Minutes
Styles: Swamp Rock, Roots Rock, “Billy Bop Blues”
When it comes to the subcategorization of the blues, some of the lines between this genre and another are especially fine. Consider “jump blues” versus rock-and-roll: Where does one end and the other begin? Purists claim they can tell, like soda buffs claim they can tell the definitive difference between Coke and Pepsi while blindfolded. A critical test would be the sophomore album from Canada’s The Kat Kings, who are Swingin’ in the Swamp. Characterizing their music as “Billy Bop Blues” on their website, they play good-natured, high-energy tunes that sound uplifting even when dealing with dark subjects. On thirteen original tracks, lead vocalist and guitarist Kevin McQuade goes all out, leading an ensemble of six fellow musicians. This CD’s only flaw is that McQuade talk-sings sometimes, but that’s minor compared to the terrific fun fans will have listening to them. As their promotional info sheet says, this is “beer drinkin’, hell-raisin’” music.
Their promo bio continues: “Led by vocalist and guitarist Kevin McQuade, the Kat Kings released their debut album The Winning Hand in 2011 to critical acclaim, and quickly became a favorite among DJs in Canada. A cross-country tour was underway, when McQuade was sidelined with news of his daughter’s near-fatal traffic accident. Plans for gigs and promo for the album came to a grinding halt, and the devoted family man headed home. ‘All of a sudden, touring to support a new record didn’t seem that important,’ McQuade recalls.”
The Kat Kings are Kevin McQuade on lead and backing vocals, electric, and acoustic guitars; Teddy Leonard on electric and acoustic guitars, and backing vocals; Chuck Keeping on drums, percussion, and backing vocals; John Dymond on upright and electric bass; Wayne Dagenais on piano, organs, and backing vocals; and John Mays and Ben D’Cunha on backing vocals.
Among this smorgasbord of delicious swamp-rock entrées, the following three are the tastiest:
Track 06: “Before I Found Him” – First, the bad news: This song is based on a true story. Now, for the many pieces of good news: It’s also invigorating, thought-provoking, and perhaps the best song on the album. A man on death row contemplates his fate as he awaits execution. “Well, they waked me in the morning, took me my last meal. The guards are just smiling, ask me how it feels. There’s protesters praying, some singing hymns. They’ll all go home when the lights turn dim…I wish Jesus would have found me ‘fore I found Him.” Savor the gospel riff at the end!
Track 09: “It Came from the Swamp” – All icky places have their local legends – haunted houses, abandoned attics, and messy marshes, too: “I’ve been hearing stories ever since I was a child about the evil in the holler, how it drives a grown man wild.” Having lost a canine companion and a cousin to a mysterious creature, our narrator seeks to warn everyone in this gritty stomp. Dig the growling guitars, both acoustic and electric.
Track 13: “Baby, You Can’t Drink” – Is the title of lucky number thirteen a command or a statement? Perhaps both: “Baby, you can’t drink. It’s way worse than you think. You go from good to bad, happy to sad, faster than you can blink. I can see it coming from a mile away, and, honey, I ain’t no shrink. I know this is gonna make you mad, but, baby, you can’t drink.” Wayne Dagenais’ piano packs a punch.
Dance along with the Kat Kings as they’re Swingin’ in the Swamp!