6 songs – 27 minutes
Six songs in 27 minutes probably makes Chunkabilly Blues an EP rather than a full album but, however it is categorised, Chris Lord and Cheatin’ River have produced a very enjoyable slab of Texas-influenced blues-rock.
Opening with “Spirit of Abilene”, the overwhelming immediate impression is of the influence of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Lord’s lightly-overdriven Strat hits a grinding groove over the shuffling rhythm of bassist Matt Blair and drummer Rick J Bowen. One listen to the lyrics, however, reveals that Chris Lord and Cheatin’ River have a singular wit and intelligence in their songwriting, as Lord engagingly recounts the story of his assignation with a $5 hooker:
“When I left that gal, I was smiling. I felt the world was humming a melody. But about three days later, I realised something was ailing me. I woke up, I was on fire, swimming in sweat and fever raised. The end was upon me. I felt like I pissing gasoline. Then it hit me. How could she be so mean? She knew all along, that dirty little Abilene.”
Our protagonist is possessed of a certain ironic detachment, however, and is not one to wallow in self-pity. By the end of the song, having been sorted out by a doctor, he recognises he has been living the life of sinner and has learned his lesson: “well, she picked me, my five dollar queen, I’ll always remember the spirit of Abilene.”
Subtle and amusing lyrical twists abound. In “She’s Moved On”, the song’s narrator comes home after a 12-hour shift only to find his wife making out with one of his friends, and then running off with him. The rest of the song is one long tale of delightful revenge: “Well, I found her dealer, on 38 and Vine, selling bags of heroin, one dime at a time. I told Rodriguez, ‘Man, she’s DEA’. That man is mean. Off the scene. Betrayed.” But he isn’t finished there. “So I told her mama, exactly what she’d said, ‘bout how she’s tired of waiting for that old lady to pass away.” He then adds the killer line: “That one hurt me, mostly ‘cause it’s true.”
Eventually, he confesses all to a preacher, who says he’ll pray for him, “because I shot ‘em down in Reno/just the way I planned,” which leads into the final chorus, which now has a new, alternative meaning: “She’s moved on/she’s taken off/with another man.”
While the clever lyrics separate the songs on Chunkabilly Blues from those of many other bands, that is not to diminish the music or the playing. The songs are well-structured and varied, featuring Bo Diddly-esque beats (“I’m Gone”), upbeat Chuck Berry “Memphis”-style rhythms (“She’s Moved On”) and Texas grooves (“She’ll Be Coming (With A Head Of Steam)”).
Lord is a consummate guitar player, turning in a particularly impressive wah-wah solo in “My Demise” and sings with a sly, amused tone that recalls Hank Williams III’s bluesier moments. The rhythm section of Blair and Bowen is rock solid.
Recorded live off the floor at Butters Sound Rec-Room Studios, the sound is full and warm and the performances are energetic.
Sometimes the best things come in small packages, and if you’re a fan of modern guitar-driven blues-rock with hints of honky tonk and country, well-written songs with intelligent lyrics, you should check out Chunkabilly Blues.