Listening to Flood by
Kansas duo of
Aaron Moreland and Dustin Arbuckle reminded me of listening to Junior Kimbrough
or R.L. Burnside for the first time in the early 1990’s except without the
sense of juke joint menace. The sound was captivating and original and not
easily defined. It was not traditional blues or rock or country. It was North
Mississippi Hill Country trance music, heavy on volume, hypnotic rhythm and
verses repeated over and over again. Music, which if consumed with enough
moonshine on the right night of the week, could indeed make you see God, or
more likely, the Devil.
The great Kimbrough and Burnside have gone on to their
eternal reward or damnation, as the case might be, and so too has authentic
trance music faded or merged with the rock/jam of groups like the North
Mississippi All Stars.
Faded that is, until Flood. Moreland and Arbuckle met at an open mic jam in Wichita in 2001 and went on to make three
self produced albums before this one. Arbuckle handles vocals and blows harp
like Little Walter on a speed/steroid cocktail. Indeed, the album kicks off at
heart attack inducing speed with Walter’s “Hate to See You Go.” This is raucous,
electric blues with the harp playing the lead. Moreland is the guitarist, which
brings us to the next musical treat on the second track of the album. Moreland
not only plays electric, steel guitar and banjo on Flood but something called “Cigar Box” guitar.
The cigar box guitar is four strings stretched across a
cigar box, sort of an updated diddly-bo guitar and was created by a friend of
Moreland’s in Memphis.
“When I play regular guitar, I hold down those bottom strings with my thumb and
pluck those to get a kind of groove going,” he says. “So when I first started
playing cigar box with the bass string, it just worked perfect with my style of
playing.” The result is that Moreland plays lead, rhythm and bass guitars while
Brad Horner plays drums on the album.
Moreland’s cigar box is featured in the traditional
blues/country song, “Legend of John Henry” which shows as much jam influence as
blues or country. But it is on songs like “18 Counties,” “Can’t Get Clear” and
“In the Morning I’ll Be Gone” that you hear the trance music at full blast.
Arbuckle has the perfect voice for the repetitive, plaintiff pleas of Hill
Country blues. Indeed, he could be channeling both Kimbrourgh and Burnside on
“18 Counties,” a song about a flood. (Oddly enough, I am coming across a lot of
damn flood songs in the blues now over four years after Katrina. Was there
another flood I missed?) “I’m too damn
old…too damned old…to start all over now,” Arbuckle sings with such passion
that you really think he is an old man watching his world washed away forever.
So how did two guys who grew up listening to everything from
Mississippi Blues to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath end up making a
blues/trance music album. Yet another mystery of the ages. Although there was
always something more than a little spooky about trance and delta music,
especially if consumed with moonshine. But there are some mysteries we don’t
need an answer to. Listen to “Don’t Wake Me” and you will hear about as fresh a
version of the classic Elmore James guitar lick as recorded in recent years. It
starts with a old fashioned almost ragtime piano intro by guest Michael
Moreland and then explodes into electric blues at its best as first Moreland
and then Arbuckle trade off leads.
Moreland & Arbuckle are the real deal. Flood is an album that will delight and
surprise you and force you to push the volume up at one in the morning despite
the neighbors banging on the walls.
Standout Tracks: “Don’t
Wake Me” “I Hate to See You Go” “18 Counties” “Can’t Get Clear” TOM