The White Stripes and the Black Keys might be today's most noted purveyors of punk-influenced blues, but its roots go back much further to bands, producers, and studios from Memphis who became enamored with the minimalist sound, often just guitar and drum, of the Hill Country Blues tradition found in northern Mississippi. The North Mississippi Allstars started as an homage to this sound that continues to influence all that fine band has ever done.
James Leg is the leader of Nashville's Black Diamond Heavies who give a things a slight twist by being a keyboard-drum duo. Solitary Pleasure is the first solo album for Leg, who also is known as John Wesley Myers from his days with the Auburn-based Immortal Lee County Killers. If the band names of Leg's previous outfits seem a bit ominous, their music lives up to it. Leg knows how to generate some paint-peeling blues rock from his bank of classic keyboard sounds.
Leg establishes himself in the style of an early era Leon Russell merged with some acute punk sensibilities. His keyboard work is both raw and multi-textured bringing a force of sound that clears the dust off your speakers. Like Russell, Leg also brings in a healthy dose of gospel fire that delivers another fervent level to the proceedings.
"Have To Get It On" and "Do How You Wanna" get things moving right away putting the gutbucket primal blues at the forefront of this sonic adventure. By "Nobody's Fault" Leg sits behind what sounds like an upright and plays some old time piano blues. "No License" brings horns into the mix before the anthemic "Georgia" draws the listener further into Leg's world at the album's midpoint.
Although Leg's vocals and style have often been compared to Tom Waits (as well as Captain Beefheart, Waits's own major influence), the next song, "Fire and Brimstone," betrays an more obvious influence on Leg - Link Wray. "Fire And Brimstone" comes from Wray's groundbreaking, but largely unknown, self-titled record which was recorded in a converted chicken shack at Wray's family farm. Leg knows the goods when he hears them and covering this song alone merits praise for Leg's overall sensibilities. In fact, the following track ("Whatever It Takes") sounds like a Wray outtake from that period.
By the time the subtle funk of "Drowning In Fire" leads to the album ending gospel fire of "No Time To Tarry," Leg has shown the wide spectrum of what the keyboards can mean to rock and roll. Like Leon Russell or even the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis have shown, the right man tinkling the ivories can move musical mountains.
With a new Black Diamond Heavies album reportedly in the can, Solitary Pleasure might be seen as a momentary diversion, but it also serves as a great starting point for this fine artist.
A "pleasure" indeed...
- Jim Markel