BY TOM SPEED
Over five discs and exhaustive liner notes, the 25-year history of Athens, Ga. rockers Bloodkin is revealed in all its glorious excess, anguish, frustration and triumph on One Long Hustle. Such is the prodigious creative output of this criminally under-heralded band that while releasing seven studio albums, a live record and two solo releases since 1994, they still amassed enough unreleased material to release a box set that stands up to their released work while also painting a vivid picture of a band that has traversed the varied terrain of rock ‘n roll mythology.
Their story is fraught with demons, of course. Drugs, deaths, tumultuous lineup changes, onstage tantrums and shady record deals are all part of the tale. In fact, the liner note history, “The Bloodkin Story,” written by chief songwriter Danny Hutchens, is such a classic saga in its own right, you could almost view this set as a book with accompanying music, rather than the other way around.
The never-before released tracks discs consist of homemade four-track recordings, studio outtakes, and other random studio sessions. Arranged roughly chronologically, the discs shift from intimate songwriting sessions between Hutchens and co-conspirator Eric Carter from early days in West Virginia to full-bore studio outtakes from sessions with producers like Johnny Sandlin and Dave Barbe.
Bloodkin was always Hutchens and Carter and whomever they could wrangle to play with them. The pair constitutes the creative nexus of the band, the kind that is almost a rock ‘n roll archetype—brothers in arms, fighting for the common cause of rock ‘n roll. This set shows them grow together.
Carter grows into a multi-faceted guitarist from his first tentative strummings. Hutchens’ songwriting matures with each disc as he delves into strained relationships, failed ambitions, and a penchant for hedonism of many stripes. All of these themes, though often centered on characters in the songs, can be seen as emblematic of the state of Bloodkin at the time. Some are clearly autobiographical, some likely embellished versions of truthy stories. But all are delivered with gut-wrenching honesty and authenticity.
You can hear Hutchens and Carter cutting their songwriting teeth in early cuts, then hit their stride with power and angst when they put the first incarnation of the band together. You can hear the ups and downs that tore the band apart and put them back together. Many of the songs contained on One Long Hustle went on to appear on official releases. Other sessions are just songs and recordings that fell through the cracks and, released here, easily stand up as albums of their own. Together, they tell the tale of rock ‘n roll in the trenches.
Though some of the tracks are fully rendered studio takes with a full band, some of the most endearing ones are the homemade demos. “Crash” on disc two (“The One False Move Sessions”) is one of them. Recorded to cassette and featuring just Hutchens and Carter on guitar, banjo and Dobro, the song reveals the duo engaging in songcraft for the sheer love of it and the joy in this uncharacteristically bouncy ditty is palpable. Elsewhere, the band, in various incarnations, excels at harnessing breakneck, bluesy bluster and down and dirty shuffles that sample flavors from the rock ‘n roll spice rack all the way from Sabbath to Stones.
One Long Hustle is a treasure trove for die-hard fans of the band, but even for the uninitiated, it’s a great and inspiring tale told through music and words that celebrates the both the beauty and the underbelly of rock ‘n roll.
DOWNLOAD: “Success Yourself,” “Paying What I Owe,” “Crash,” “God’s Bar”