Left Lane Cruiser / James Leg

Painkillers

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In case you wondered whatever became of the tradition of the blues jam, it was alive and kicking for a few days in Detroit when raw and rootsy guitar-and-drum duo Left Lane Cruiser headed into a recording studio with James Leg, the keyboard player and vocal howler from the Black Diamond Heavies, to lay down a set of high-octane cover tunes. Producer Jim Diamond sat in on bass and Harmonica Shah stopped by to blow some harp, and the result is Painkillers, a loud and rowdy collection of bluesy wailing for the 21st century. Like plenty of bands on the punk-blues axis, both Left Lane Cruiser and James Leg approach their music with the ferocity of a starving dog that's been tossed a bloody steak, and if you're looking for anything approaching subtlety, Painkillers is not for you. But the musicians on this date all seem to be on the same page -- they want to get loud and boogie like they're expecting to be taken to jail in the morning, and for a makeshift band, these performances are surprisingly tight and emphatic. Leg's trademark "Tom Waits with a sore throat" growl is as over-the top as it's always been, but in this context, it suits the material just fine, and his swirling organ and thickly distorted electric piano are rich and satisfying, while the manic slide guitar of Frederick "Joe" Evans IV and hard-stomping drumming of Brenn Beck are as greasy as a good burger and just as tasty. Diamond's rock-solid bass work and full-bodied engineering is just the right icing on this particular cake, as are the primal harp blasts from Harmonica Shah, and if the set list -- a list of blues and blues-rock standards ranging from Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin -- isn't especially imaginative, these guys attack like the best sort of bar band, and the version of Bob Seger's "Come to Poppa" suggests they were embracing the Detroit experience to the fullest. Painkillers suggests an overdriven, punk-infused variation on Canned Heat's old formula, and if they're never going to get to cut an album with John Lee Hooker, at least they have the good sense to see that their boogie isn't endless, and for 35 minutes, this is a house party worth a visit.

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