Guitarist Marco Littig has never hidden his passion for old-school blues. Despite coming of age in the 1980s heyday of nu-blues rockers like Stevie Ray Vaughn and smooth-ride populists like Robert Cray, Littig’s model music came from a more antiquated era, when guys like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker first fused the rough-and-rural vibe of southern acoustic blues with modern electric instruments.
So it comes as no real shock when the newest CD by Littig’s band, Mudslide Charley, kicks off with a rumbling, four-on-the-floor romp punctuated by vocals that sound like they were recorded through a megaphone with a weak battery. Though the tune is titled “Black Haired Angel,” they could have called it “Back Here Danger” and no listener would have raised an eyebrow: Buried within a growlingly distorted mix and wailing refrain, the lyrics themselves seem secondary to the effect – a dark smear of redaction across a crumpled-up love letter.
Blues music both old and new frequently suffers from an excess of formulaic repetition, leaving listeners stuck in one place as the music chugs along. It’s a telling detail that the single-CD album, titled “Ramshackle Soul,” lists four album “sides” on its back cover, each comprised of three or four individual songs. While the divisions aren’t clearly evident from song to song, the album still manages to explore far more territory than one typically finds in this genre.
Indeed, immediately after “Black Haired Angel” grinds to a halt, the vibe softens and the focus sharpens with “Dead Canaries,” an atmospheric, down-tempo groove overlaid by the velvety voices of backing singers Christine Littig, Emily Kodama, and Aimee Thurber. Other numbers venture even farther afield, from sunny-sky Dixieland (“Little Lu La Lay”) to bitter soul-funk (“Bible & a Gun”), to back-porch country (“Stardust Motel”).
It certainly helps that the band features a killer cast of local talent, including Charlie Hopkins on harmonica, guitar, and mandolin; Phil Hamilton on harmonica, tenor sax, drums and percussion; Tahj Kjelland on bass; and Roger Moquin on drums (with all members sharing some vocal duties as well).
Nobody ever accused Mudslide Charley of breaking new ground. But as “Ramshackle Soul” demonstrates, there’s still plenty to discover in the spaces between familiar territory. Catch the band, and pick up a copy of the album, when Mudslide Charley appears at the Old Post Pub on Friday, July 15; or catch them Saturday night at the Bitterroot Brew Pub in Hamilton.