by Sean Golightly
There’s no way around it. Cutting an American blues rock record in 2018 is like pitching a show to Netflix, introducing a kangaroo to Australia, or bringing a third turkey to Thanksgiving. In other words, it’s supplying a saturated market. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter how well you cook or how substantial an appetite your cousin keeps, some folks will neglect the drumsticks in favor of the string beans. Your turkey better jump through hoops of fire if it wants any attention at the table.
That being said, if you got a growl in your gut, I suggest you direct your attention to “Wandering Soul” from Firebug. Recently released on Spectra Music Group and co-produced by Chris Goss (Foo-Fighter, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age), this is a blues-rock album that works for its relevance. The hoops are lit, the bird is jumping, and there are plenty of reasons to sink your teeth.
Strictly speaking, “blues-rock” is a bit reductionist in describing the sound crafted by Firebug. All the expected markers are present; here’s the crunchy riff, there’s the Hammond organ; but Firebug adds exceptional dirt and fuzz alongside auxiliary instruments (dig the mandolin in “Fool Like Me”) to bring the sound into realms of grunge, psychedelia, and even folk. While on the whole, the album rails with steam power, stand out tracks such as “Sinner” and “Wine Water and Bread” also elicit the sexy, sliding swampiness of downtempo New Orleans groove.
Speaking of sexy, take time to bask in the vocals of Juliette Tworsey. Her smoothly rounded, valkyrie-vibrato gives wings to the heart of Firebug. From soulful swells as in “For the Love”, to Grace-Slick-esque howls as in “Follower”, she deftly navigates the space of each song to remain present without overpowering.
Also found in “Follower” are some of the more notable lyrics of the album. Remarking upon a world that as “turned gray” where “so much is unclear” and “all my news is a soundbyte”, Tworsey sings with honest ire, “I only know what they told me…I’m a follower”.
If “Follower” stings with certain timeliness, the debut single “Wine Water, and Bread” soothes with old wisdom. Here Tworsey reassures the satisfying capacity of the little things and asserts even “time is a perception, so I hear when you got wine, water, and bread”.
However, lyrical poignancy tends to wane elsewhere in the album. At best, many verses come off like restated stock rock images, such as the lines in “Further From June” that take us “Far above the valley below with the wind the moon and the snow”. At worst, other lines are downright tropes, such as the tired rhyme heard in “For The Love”, “put on my dancing shoes and dance away my blues”.
To be fair, one man’s trope is another’s tradition. There is an undeniable familiarity and accessibility to the images conjured in “Wandering Soul”. As the title suggests, this album paints the picture of the archetypical gypsy woman on a desert highway, the holy pariah, the Sissy Hankshaw, the yearner for capital-T Truth. Said plainly in the dark and catchy “Shallow Water”, “My story…it’s as old as the sun”.
In a way, Firebug’s success with “Wandering Soul” can be summed in their flirtation with the double-edged sword of tradition. They may not be shattering any expectations of what modern blues rock should be, but they perform so forcefully within the lines that the experience is as invigorating as it is wide-reaching.
To talk turkey, “Wandering Soul” is like grandma’s finest recipe with extra butter. It may have come third to the table, but you’d be well advised to get at it first. With the extensive tour plans Firebug has for 2018, you should have plenty of opportunities to get a taste.
Make sure everyone picks up the new album “Wandering Soul” by FireBug which is out now at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify.
Visit their website at www.firebugmusic.com
Follow Firebug on Twitter @firebugmusic