Moreland & Arbuckle

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Flood Review

by Hal Horowitz

Swamp blues twosome Moreland & Arbuckle, with assistance from drummer Brad Horner, graduate to the relative big time with their debut for the high-profile Telarc label. The hundreds of one-night stands in dingy blues clubs and as support for other roots artists yield a tough, no-nonsense set that barrels through 50 minutes of highly charged Delta-styled blues and blues-rock. Like Billy Gibbons, guitarist Aaron Moreland gets a lot of gritty sound out of his guitar, in his case a custom cigar box contraption with three guitar strings and two bass strings. A bassist contributes to three tracks, but Moreland's attack is so powerful that he doesn't need the help. Singer/harpist Dustin Arbuckle blows like a combination of Little Walter (whose "Hate to See You Go" is one of the album's few covers), Paul Butterfield, and Jason Ricci; in other words, plugged in and spitting blood. He's also become a convincing singer with a dynamic and powerful voice able to infuse emotion into the few ballads that provide a brief respite from the locomotive attack. His emotive croon on the acoustic "Your Man Won't Ever Know" is spooky and threatening. Less successful is the standard Chicago groove of "Don't Wake Me," a by-the-numbers shuffle that changes the disc's more raucous tempo but doesn't take the band, augmented by a pianist on the track, anywhere others haven't already been. But you're never far from a blistering, midtempo Mississippi blues like "In the Morning I'll be Gone," where the guitar and harp lock together on a grinding riff, then skirt around each other until the chorus. Moreland's banjo on the closing "Can't Get Clear" (an earlier creeping six-minute electric version is another album highlight) shows that he's far from a one-trick guitar pony. The band veers into acoustic country dirt on "Can't Leave Well Enough Alone" and "Red Moon Rising." Both changeups complement the more rugged, plugged-in territory plowed on the majority of this impressive disc. The pair's raw talent and gutsy approach, honed by a decade of roadwork and musical empathy, are evident throughout this inspiring, energetic, and dynamic release.

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