Album Review: Barrence Whitfield & the Savages – ‘Under the Savage Sky’

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From the raucous and menacing first guitar notes on the opening track “Willow”, you already know you’re in for a hell of a party and it’s being thrown by none other than the force of nature that is Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. On the follow-up to the stellar Dig Thy Savage Soul, Whitfield and his band prove they’re still bringing the noise with Under the Savage Sky. The album art features a silhouette of Whitfield being attacked by Hitchcock’s birds, fitting in its implication of theatrics and thrills – both major components of the frontman’s performance style.

There’s a raw grittiness to the Savages’ sound, and Whitfield plays it up with his uninhibited vocals. His energy level is unparalleled on songs like the rockabilly dance number “Rock n’ Roll Baby”, which sounds beamed in from another era; and “The Claw”, a rollicking party of a song that feels similarly timeless. Sky finds Whitfield and the Savages getting more in touch with their roots of inspiration through songs that have an effortless vintage coolness. These songs are more retrospective than anything else the band has done, and it’s a thrill to hear them exploring these depths.

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Sky is a crafty dance record, ideal for booty shaking and shimmying. It makes you want to find a dark basement, a black light and some saddle shoes, and transport yourself back to the swinging 1960s for a little dirty dancing. Hidden in Whitfield’s howl is a naughtiness that may inspire you to abandon all your hang-ups and let it all hang out. This is nighttime music, perfect for misbehavin’ and gettin’ into trouble.

From his opening scream on “I’m a Full Grown Man” to his devilish rasp on “Katy Didn’t”, Whitfield is exposing an even wilder side of himself this time around. The sounds come from deep inside him; they’re guttural and smoky, sultry and unleashed. He knows how to go dark, but he’s having too much fun to let it get you down. On “Bad News Perfume” he sings about getting mixed up with a femme fatale alongside boisterous, jazzy horns, capturing mischief so well.

A Barrence Whitfield show is a burst of adrenaline from all angles, with Whitfield working up a serious sweat and throwing himself across all corners of the stage. He’s a true rock star, and his records reflect that. Sky is a continuation of the blend of heavy garage punk and soul the Savages perfected with their last album. Blasts of electric guitar punctuate Whitfield’s full-bodied shrieks and wails, and it all creates a deep, filling, funky retro soul dish.

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Photo credit: Drew Reynolds

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