CD: 7 Songs; 27:34 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues, Delta and Chicago Blues
If two blues musicians, a husband-and-wife team, had only twenty-seven minutes and thirty-four seconds in which to pour out their hearts, what would they do? How many songs would they sing, and within them, what stories would they tell?
This reviewer is pleased to be “Introducing Fife and Drom,” otherwise known as Mark Marshall and Abby Ahmad. Though the couple grew up across the street from one another in Pennsylvania, over twenty years later, fate arranged their first meeting at the Crossroads Café in Brooklyn. Their band name pays tribute to fife and drum blues music, which emerged from Mississippi, and also to the Dutch word “drom,” meaning “a group moving together with purpose”.
On this debut album they’re joined by Michael Leonhart of Steely Dan, Jon Cowherd of the Brian Blade Fellowship and co-performer with Roseanne Cash, and Jackson Kincheloe of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Together they present seven original songs, which contain just the right amount of eccentricity to bring bite to their blues. Some may take getting used to, but these three are addicting upon the very first play-through:
Track 01: “Wicked Tongue” – With a diabolical electric-guitar intro by Mark Marshall and gritty stomp drumbeat by Sean Dixon, the opener will make purists sit up and pay attention. “Every time I try to please you, you go and start a fight,” Abby Ahmad sneers, “but, baby, how can I believe you when your bark feels like a bite?” At the end of the song, she playfully turns the tables on her belligerent bully: “Won’t you get down on your knees, boy, and let that frown have some fun?”
Track 02: “Barnburner” – This towering inferno is an instrumentalist’s paradise, featuring seven separate ones (Alfaia, autoharp, acoustic guitar, bass, percussion, resonator guitar, and snare drum). They’re joined by Mark Marshall and Adam Minkoff on background vocals, as well as Scott Kettner and Brittany Anjou on hand claps. They all present two options: dance or depart.
Track 05: “Little Orphan Frannie”- The title character of this tune is no red-headed waif who lacks pupils. Rather, she’s a hard-bitten ward of the state who spots (and kills) her abusive father as an adult: “’Little Orphan Frannie, the resemblance is uncanny; it’s been fifteen years or so. I took one look upon his head, and I shot that [sucker] dead…I don’t care if the whole world knows.” The instrumental cacophony may be unnerving at first, but that’s exactly its point.
Abby Ahmad’s vocals are a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow, with a little Edie Brickell as an accent flavor. She uses them to best effect on rowdy numbers like the first two mentioned above, but they sound syrupy on the final track, “Please, Please, Please.” Overall, though, “Introducing Fife and Drom” to the blues world is a plus for fans of the Delta variety.