When I hear the terms ‘Country Noir’ or ‘Gothic Americana’, a few things jump to mind – almost all of them, disappointing. There’s a solid base in the premise, but in execution, it fails to excite for very long. There has been, of course, a trend leaning toward that in TV for the past ten years, with shows like HBO’s True Blood, FX’s American Horror Story, and Netflix’s bandwagon-jumping Hemlock Grove. It’s grimy, sexy, creepy, and (unfortunately) generally lacklustre as far as anything more than softcore cable pornography goes. So, how does a musical take on this genre sound? That, to me, is what The Whiskey Charmers are doing, but far more successfully than any of those shows.
This isn’t half-arsed, shit-kicking devil worship; there’s a truly ominous feel to this LP. It’s like someone or something’s lurking in the corner of your shitty bayou bourbon hole, watching as you empty shot after shot, before you stumble out the door and into a missing persons report. In this scenario, there’s a three-piece band in the corner, providing the apt soundtrack for your evisceration and that band is the Whiskey Charmers.
It’s not what you’d expect when you hear the trio is from Detroit – famous for punk powerhouses like The Stooges and MC5, or more recently, rappers like Eminem and Xzibit (insert hysterical smoker’s cough/laugh here). But the blues couldn’t have found a more apt home than the Motor City. It’s had more than its fair share of downs over the past decades, with the near collapse of the U.S. automotive industry, urban decay, and bankruptcy to name but a few hurdles… Why wouldn’t they feel a connection to the heart-wrenching misery of the deep, dank south? It’s not so much Deliverance, as deliver us from evil, however, menacing country ambience is not all The Whiskey Charmers bring to the table.
I’ve heard all sorts of what could be called ‘weirdness of influence’ on this album. There are glimpses of Fleetwood Mac, Jefferson Airplane, and even a bit of Nancy Sinatra in Sidewinder, as well as the easier to link country influences few of our readers will ever have heard – and that’s just the vocal. Carrie Shepard has a voice you’d leave your wife and eleven children for in a heartbeat. The tone of it is like a short of Jack Daniels drunk slowly and neat: warm the whole way down, before it shoots back up your spine to the pleasure centre of your brain, followed by a dark, liquid caramel chaser. She had me from the first note of Elevator to the last bar of Waltz. I’d drop everything and book a flight to Michigan just to become a full-time stalker if I knew it included a dental plan.
The guitar is at its haunting best in Vampire, an account of a sordid night with a deathly white stranger and the creeping hypnosis that gets you caught up in that sort of thing. Lawrence Daversa plays the blues along every nerve of your body, plucking, sliding, and vibrato-ing to a tingling climax – before you ask, yes, it feels odd to say that about another man, but the music is just inescapably sexy when combined with Carrie’s sultry voice. It takes two to tango, and this proves that, just maybe, that platitude can stretch across more than just dance and euphemism.
The rhythm section is understated, to its strength. It keeps the rest of the band ticking away metronomically without fading into repetitive monotony. It’s subtle, but also exceptionally noticeable, which is a hard thing for a drummer to do without overimposing himself like a glam-rock thunder god, but artfully achieved by Brian Ferriby. It’s the solid base that allows the rest of the band to build on it.
For me, The Whiskey Charmers are a fresh take on the usual country staples – drinking, isolation, heartbreak, despair, and death, with none of the drawbacks. This is refined, making it more studio than trailer park, but again, we’re not dealing with kids from the back roads in the middle of nowhere. They tread the line between the swamp shack grittiness I mentioned before and the alluring, sulking appeal of glamorous 50’s L.A. parlour noir.
I can’t put into words how much I enjoy this album. All I can say is there’s an originality just below the surface sound that you don’t hear every day. Moreover, while every track stands by itself, it does what all great albums do, it creates a weaving narrative that continues through the whole album. In essence, The Whiskey Charmers have done something no TV network has succeeded in doing – capturing that creepy, yet enticing essence of danger, sex, and dirt to be found just off the beaten track running adjacent to Route 90.
It’s more than well worth a listen; in fact, I’ll be offended if you don’t listen to it this instant. Usually, this is the part where I try to convince you, but I genuinely feel that this album is above grovelling or coercion. Plus in your headphones and you’ll understand, I guarantee.