Album review: HONEY ISLAND SWAMP BAND – Demolition Day


Ruf [Release date 08.07.16]

Honey Island Swamp Band take their name from the Eastern part of Louisiana, a bayou area that infuses their music with a broad based outlook.

It’s rare in the rock/blues world to come across an album that brings together contrasting elements of vitality, energy and originality with subtle textures and familiar retro elements, on a set of songs that linger after just one play.

It’s even rarer for a band on their fourth studio album and celebrating their tenth anniversary to come up with such a tightly focused piece of work.

‘Demolition Day’ jumps out the grooves with a melange of roots-rock, blues, funk, country, soul and Americana. The 11 tracks bristle with wide ranging roots music that draws together such diverse influences such as The Stones, the Meters, The Band, Little Feat and fleetingly The Grateful Dead, on the extended ‘Another Day’.

The key to the album’s appeal is the way the band and their producer Luther Dickinson make everything seem fresh and alive.

Dickinson glues everything together with svelte touch that highlights individual solos, while emphasising an essential flow.

You can even forgive the band the fact that they open with the Stones influenced ‘How Do You Feel’, complete with a stolen Keith Richard riff, a Bobby Keys style sax break and an overall ‘Exile On Main Street’ vibe. It all neatly mirrors their own loose feel at the heart of some well crafted songs.

In between the cracks, there’s a jam band, that with the exception of the beautifully nuanced ‘Through Another Day’, sticks rigorously to the arrangements, almost in spite of itself.

Honey Island Swamp Band originally hails from New Orleans and relocated to the West coast because of Hurricane Katrina, an event recalled on the rolling funky groove of ‘Head High Water Blues’, the lyrics of which give the album its title.

You can hear their original influences on tracks like the swampy ‘Watch & Chain’, which is built round a slide, electric piano and horn axis. Then there’s the funky ‘Head High Water Blues’,

Nothing is forced, as the grooves bubble up and the solos remain an integral part of the song. The whole album drips with an aching feel and moments of real inspiration

You can feel the band’s relentless drive on the mellifluous ‘No Easy Way’, which opens as a mournful slow blues with Chris Mule’s slide guitar over a muted horn section. It then quickly transforms itself into a seamless groove with a fine vocal from Aaron Wilkinson, before it’s book-ended by the same slide and horn combination, complete with an expected coda.

‘Medicated’ is different again, with a soulful feel that taps into the retro soul-blues vein that has recently seen a significant revival. In the context of this album though, it sounds a little contrived as a shoe-in.

The down-home, rustic feel of ‘Katie’ evokes Lowell George and Little Feat, while the train-time, soft brush strokes of the humorous ‘She Goes Crazy’, adds the deftest N’Orleans horn arrangement imaginable.

Vocalist Aaron Wilkinson attacks the material with expressive phrasing that keeps the tracking fresh and new. The band is also consistently attentive and supportive to the song at hand, rather than stretching out pieces for the sake of it.

They evoke The Band -arguably their biggest influence – on the gentle caress and understated rootsy feel of ‘Say It Isn’t True’ and round things off with ‘Devils Den’, on which they are joined by the ethereal lap steel tones of special guest Tab Benoit.

‘Demolition Day is a fine album by a band constantly in search of new ideas. Their artistic hunger should reap them rich reward.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00

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