Ever since the rise of the Vaughan
has been a hotbed of cracker blues rock. But it’s probably safe to say the River City
hasn’t seen a blues band quite like Churchwood. Guitarist Bill Anderson (Poison
13, the Meat Purveyors, the Horsies) and vocalist Joe Doerr (the LeRoi
Brothers) last collaborated in Hand of Glory, Austin’s answer to the Cult, but
this band is nothing like the duo’s prior work. Churchwood instead owes a heartfelt debt to Captain Beefheart,
particularly the eccentric roots rock of the painter/musician’s work prior to Trout Mask Replica.
Basic Delta blues forms find themselves twisted like
pretzels, as Anderson and co-axeman Billysteve Korpi (also of the similarly
bent Crackpipes) eschew guitar solos and instead weave complementary guitar
lines around each other like snakes trying to mate. Jazz-damaged drummer Julian
Peterson and busy four-stringer Adam Kahan nail the base of jazz-inflected
grooves to the ground while letting the ends flap in the wind. Doerr rides this
tiger with a twinkle in his eye and steel wool in his throat, reveling in
ridiculous wordplay (“Hocus pocus 6th & Locust/Burnt bituminous
coal/Broke a lot of brickbats cross my back/But they never did touch my soul”)
like the poetry professor he is in civilian life. The combination of high art
and lowdown hits a quintessential groove in the aptly-titled “Rimbaud Diddley”
(French lyrics atop the most famous beat in the universe), but “Melungeon in
the Dungeon,” “Pity the Noose” and (deep breath) “Supermonisticgnostiphistic”
get the manic mojo working just as righteously.
Casually weird but ever cognizant of the beat at the heart
of the blues, Churchwood sets a new standard for Texas-bred mannish boys.
“Melungeon in the Dungeon,” “Rimbaud Diddley” MICHAEL TOLAND