We hailed Jerry Joseph’s Beautiful Madness in last year’s Glide 20. In his opening track to the album, “Days of Heaven,” Joseph has this verse – “A clutch of Bloodkin chords/ The rain of El Sauzal /We balance on the wire/ High above the roar/ Not afraid to fall/Can we get it higher.” To boot, Bloodkin’s Black Market Tango, is released on Joseph’s label. On just the basis of that, and for the band’s first single, “John Coltrane In Nagasaki,” it’s easy to be drawn to this momentous project. If one needs additional convincing before wading in, know that Patterson Hood of the Drive-by Truckers and the principals of Widespread Panic revere Bloodkin. The 15 song, double album is Athens, GA-based Daniel Hutchens and Eric Carter’s first album of new material in over a decade. Their legions of fans have to be salivating and given the gap, this will likely draw plenty of new listeners too.
We immediately have an appreciation for the way Hutchens thinks as he talks about the single, “I wrote these lyrics after watching a documentary about John Coltrane; I was struck by how on his last tour he insisted on playing Nagasaki, because an atomic bomb had been dropped there at the end of WWII, and Coltrane said he was going to ‘retune the molecules’ in the atmosphere and help heal the city and its people. …. We added some Jay Gonzalez organ to make it even a little bigger! “NOTE: Gonzales is the keyboardist for the Drive-By Truckers (his most recent solo effort Back to the Hive covered on these pages).
The story of Bloodkin began when Daniel Hutchens and Eric Carter met in West Virginia as 8-year-olds. Over the course of their career, they have collaborated on more than five hundred original songs. In the decade since releasing their last album of new material, Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again, Bloodkin released a career-spanning box set and Daniel released a solo album. It looked like their long-run had come to end. Then in late 2018, they realized they still had unfinished business. They reached out to David Barbe, (longtime producer of the Drive-by Truckers as well) who has produced, mixed, and engineered many of their studio albums as he does here, and got started in Athens in February 2019. Hutchens and Carter were joined by band members, Aaron Phillips on drums, Jon Mills on Bass, and John Neff on guitar and pedal steel, as well as many special guests. For hardened fans much of the songwriting approach will be familiar, but the band moves in some new directions too.
“Her Blues”, a story told from a woman’s point of view that Carter had been playing solo for years, was recorded as a duet with Ansley Stewart featuring a blues riff with pedal steel guitar. “Trashy”, a signature Hutchens song, was recorded live in one or two takes in vehement response to the Trump administration’s greed and prejudice, stressing that people with the issues of poverty have their own value systems. “Gloryosky” is a pulsating rocker while “Beneath the Streets of Nashville” is a mid-tempo tune with raging guitar, nice piano from Barbe and a blaring 6-piece horn section. The refreshing “Freedom Fizz”, with Mike Cooley’s (DBTs) banjo, is an outtake from Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again, and provides a nice break from the heavier songs.
“Last Concert Café” brings some country with Neff’s dobro a tribute to a lost friend, akin to the DBT’s “The Living Bubba” as they sing of “that last rock n’ roll show.” They return in trademark rocking guitar form on “Kids Are Cool”, powering that “clutch of Bloodkin chords” referenced by Joseph. While Hutchens sings most of them, Carter is back for “Speed Freak Highway,” another standout. “Man in Trouble” retains the rhythmic intensity while “Metal and Wood” takes it down a notch, imbued by Gonzalez’ organ and potent chorus moments. Here and throughout the album Carter’s piercing guitar blazes a piercing, fiery trail. Neff’s pedal steel leads into “Cantina Fever,” and guest Annie Leeth adds violin to round out the swirling backdrop. The guitars reach a dense feverish pitch on “One Way Ride” setting us up for the epic 12 minute closer, “God’s Bar,” clearly one of the most memorable songs you will hear this year.
“God’s Bar” was originally released on their box set, One Long Hustle, and is one that was building for a long time. The song features a host of guests and has the indelible chorus – “It’s almost closing time. You don’t have to go home…. but you can’t stay here.” The song breaks and then moves into a Stones-like rocker with the host of voices jubilantly singing “on a Sunday” as the horns join, the keyboards pound in the sheer glory of the best rock n roll. The sheer length of the song may keep it from getting “Song of the Year” nods, but it is every bit deserving and then some.
Bloodkin does what few bands can, deliver a double album with no filler, bringing uncompromising, literate, exhilarating rock n’ roll. Play this loud and unapologetically rattle your neighbors’ walls. Let’s bring on the live show.
R.I.P. Daniel Hutchens, I miss ya’ brother!
This is the best new album I’ve heard in a long, long time; undeniably Bloodkin’s masterpiece, a massive statement to make about a band with such a huge, influential (even if sparsely known) catalog. The stories told within every song, the performances (from every member of the band), the undeniably masterful production, and the sequencing/pacing of the entire double vinyl set makes this, for my money, one of the better, and greatest sounding, records ever made.
Awesome release! RIP Daniel!