D. Charles Speer & the Helix / D. Charles Speer

Doubled Exposure

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It's difficult, and maybe even pointless, to try to pin D. Charles Speer (the recording name of Dave Shuford of the No-Neck Blues Band) into a musical genre. Americana fits, perhaps, if it's the kind of Americana that finds a Southern boy from Georgia relocated to Brooklyn and under the spell of Greek mythology, music, and instruments. Speer and his band the Helix mix blues riffs with country two-step boogie shuffles, tinges of discordant jazz, Greek drones, and an independent spirit into a clanging stew that somehow remains honky tonk even as it veers off into space. Then there's Speer's voice, which is a deadpan, almost monotonic, baritone Southern drawl that can just barely hang on to his melodies, but does, and somehow he conveys pathos, redemption, and sharp, nearly concealed humor as he sings and half speaks lyrics that fit so well that they seem hardly to be there at all as the band crashes on. Think Tom Waits getting drunk with the Tennessee Two while playing a honky tonk in Greece, or something like that. Doubled Exposure, recorded by Jason Meagher at Black Dirt Studios in upstate New York, has a rich, full, warm, and still live-sounding and edgy wash of grit all over it, and it is Speer's most accessible album yet, if accessible means one can't help being kind of fascinated by it. The opener, "Wallwalker," is a fast country two-step boogie that says "here we are" with onrushing certainty, before giving way to "Cretan Lords," full of bouzouki and baglamas, which somehow makes allusions to King Minos of Crete's endless labyrinth sound as logical and natural as an old Delta blues song being scratched out at a Mississippi rent party. Speer comes closest to Waits territory on songs like "Bootlegging Blues," which sounds like it could have fit right into Waits' Mule Variations album, but then Speer's maverick vision is utterly his own. Things close out with the rollicking "Tough Soup," a relentless and positive romp where Speer sings out "cook it on high" over and over again, reminding that, although he can skirt the edge of being didactic and difficult, Speer is ultimately about living well, learning lessons, dancing in the face of everything, and not worrying too much about whether you should or you shouldn't.

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