14 songs – 49 minutes
From time to time, new artists appear on the scene and make such an impact that one can only wonder why it has taken so long for them to appear. The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer are one such act.
They actually released their first, self-titled, album in 2008, which was followed in 2011 by Checkered Past. A Real Fine Mess is their third album and it is a highly impressive slab of modern blues-pop-rock that avoids clichés or moribund, regurgitated melodies and chord progressions, whilst still retaining one foot deeply in the blues. If there is any justice in the world (admittedly, a big “if”), A Real Fine Mess should be their break-out album.
The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer are actually the Vancouver-based duo of Shawn “The Harpoonist” Hall and Matthew “The Axe Murdered” Rogers. In a live situation, Hall sings and plays harmonica; Rogers plays guitar and foot percussion, creating a raw and primal stew of the blues. In the studio, they have added bass, keys, organ, horns and backing vocals, whilst retaining an urgency, energy and drive.
Opening with “Black and Blue”, Rogers’ finger-picked Telecaster has a huge tone. Other instruments are layered on top, one by one, including slide guitar, harmonica and simple but powerful drums, but the production retains a memorable starkness and emotional power.
Hall has a distinctive voice, often slipping into falsetto (such as on “Feel Me Now”) and sometimes even displaying a hint of reggae (in “Closer To Death”, which also features some lovely understated organ from Tom Heuckendorff).
The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer take their name from a line in Kris Kristofferson’s “Me And Bobby McGee“ that references the blues harp (“I took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana”) and “axe”, the common colloquialism for the electric guitar. It’s a distinctive and memorable name. And those adjectives are also a pretty fair reflection of the music on A Real Fine Mess.
The 14 self-written songs on the album are closer to blues-pop-rock than pure blues, and the backing vocals of Andrina Turenne, Alexa Dirks and Dawn Pemberton on some tracks give an additional sense of late ‘60s soul. But there is an energy, drive and emotional honesty to the songs that should appeal to blues purists as well as to blues-rock fans.
Hall and Rogers have an impressive understanding of dynamics. “Mama In The Backseat”, for example, grooves with the irresistible drive of a Magic Sam boogie, but with a softer edge during the verse that builds tension and expectation before exploding into life for the instrumental sections.
Rogers is a top drawer guitarist but he avoids taking any solos on A Real Fine Mess, preferring instead to add dynamic support to the songs. Indeed, this is an album of songs, not solos. Hall takes a couple of short solos, but again his harmonica is primarily used to support the songs, rather than using the songs as an opportunity to demonstrate instrumental prowess.
Hall and Rogers live in different cities separated by 34 nautical miles of sea, which brought its own challenges to the recording. However, after18 ferry trips, 3 missed flights, countless breakdowns, and a barrage of text and email arguments later, A Real Fine Mess was finished. And it was worth all that effort.
If you enjoy the blues-rock of Jack White or The Black Keys, you will love A Real Fine Mess. If you enjoy superbly-written songs, heavily rooted in the blues, but with hints of soul, pop, funk and rock, you will want to hear this album. Highly impressive and very enjoyable.