The Upshot: Resonator guitar wizardry + vivid character-driven tales = another compelling song cycle from the Louisiana musician.
BY FRED MILLS
“Got the scorched earth fever
You begging come on
White light dream in your head
Where you going?
Looking round the way
I don’t care no more
This time…Don’t even know what I want
Set it off this time”
—from “Set It Off”
Singing in a part-haunted howl and part-sensual croon, Dege Legg, aka Brother Dege, never fails to convey a host of emotions to fuel his character-driven tales of life in the deep south—the bayou wilds of Louisiana, to be exact, wherein the populace is inevitably marked by wild-eyed romantics, serial losers, lovable outlaws and even the occasional visitor from the spirt world. In this, his Cajun-French and Native American lineage serves him well; in addition to being an accomplished singer-songwriter (he initially surfaced in the late ‘90s with rock band Santeria), Legg is also a storyteller of no small acclaim and a published author. He’s also celebrated for his atmospheric-yet-earthy style of resonator guitar that’s earned him comparisons to Chris Whitley, J.J. Grey & Mofro and Rainer Ptacek, and Quentin Tarantino even used one of his songs for Django Unchained.
A couple of years ago, reviewing his masterful How to Kill a Horse, yours truly noted, “This is heavy stuff, and it’s a dark, dark album as well. But the cathartic moments come frequently, too, like the roiling, cresting, psychedelic thunder that is the instrumental “O’Dark 30,” or “Crazy Motherfucker,” a straight up Delta blues boogie that, with its anthemic choruses, is bound to be a show-stopper in concert.” All that holds true with Scorched Earth Policy, which Legg initially dropped digitally as a kind of stopgap release, an odds ‘n’ sods collection of demos, covers and field recordings for his fans. Response was so good, though, that he’s now turned the album into a “deluxe” edition that pares the tracklisting down to an even dozen, in the process dropping some of the rougher material and adding new, more polished tracks.
Highlights include the above-quoted “Set it Off,” an anthemic rocker; bluesy stomper “Pay No Mind”; the spooky, droning “Tower of Babel” (both of those obvious showcases for his resonator talents); and the richly melodic, irresistibly catchy “Somewhere” that practically cries out for Mark Knopfler to cover. There’s also a six-minute instrumental, “Calabasas,” that’s so searingly cosmic it could almost pass for Electric Ladyland-era Hendrix diving deep into slide guitar territory. It’s all in service to an overall noirish ambiance, and Brother Dege expertly traverses the grey areas of life with an uncommonly assured step. Encore, please.
DOWNLOAD: “Set It Off,” “Pay No Mind,” “Calabasas,” “Somewhere”