When one listens to a whole lot of music
, it becomes easy to be lulled into the friendly confines of being satisfied with good
without ever hearing great
. That is, until something exceptional comes along and then it is experienced as an epiphany. So were my feelings hearing Low Society's 2014 release You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down
(Ice House Records). That was my introduction to brand of American blues, country and soul, that, while contemporary, is completely authentic on all counts. Well, there was a Low Society recording before You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down
: High Time
and it is equally fine and deserving of attention, in addition to being a great palate preparation for the band's upcoming release, Sanctified
Low Society is the celestial collision of two quasars, Brooklyn's own Sturgis Nikides and Houston-native Mandy Lemons, the latter becoming Mandy Lemons Nikides post-collision. Between the two are rich and fecund musical traditions joining in an organic synergy eclipsing the sum of their parts. The two met in the cultural center of the world, New York City, after Nikides had worked with Velvet Underground members Nico and John Cale in the 1970s and '80s followed by a sabbatical in Florida, then ending up back in NYC. The two began performing together in 2009, a union resulting in the present recording, High Time
. In 2012, the pair made a pilgrimage to the musical center of the United States, Memphis, TN where they decided to stay, taking up residence in Mr. Handy's Blues Hall on the fabled Beale Street. There are few sweeter treats than to see Low Society perform in the famous narrow annex of the Rum Boogie Café located at the corner of Beale Street and South B.B, King Boulavard. Can it get any better than that?
Well, yes it can. Because, not only is the band steeped in the music vernacular of the area, they also prove to be progressive, forward-thinking, composers in that same vernacular, bringing other potent influences to bear. High Time
is not some recital of dusty nine-and twelve-bar blues performed to death by lesser talent. It is a collection of ten thoughtfully programmed original compositions that range from the rock-hard opener "Given Up on Love" featuring Lemons' crack blues phrasing, echoing Lightning Sam Hopkins and Nikides' razor slashing slide guitar, to the darkly hued behemoth "Black Pelican" showing off Lemons' vocal and Nikides' slide guitar depth and breadth. One readily hears the VU, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and every other influence soaked up by the two artists in the golden age of the 1960s and '70s.
The pair possess great chops in production and programming, interspersing the up-tempo pieces among the more impressionistic pieces. Case in point is the triptych created with "Long Black Limousine," "Texas Goodnight," and "When I'm Done." Nikides and Lemons deftly fold disparate instrumentation and genre-bending kinetic direction that is dizzying in their expanse. "Long Black Limousine" (not the blues standard), features Nikides playing slide guitar, dobro, and banjo in a Zydeco-Country & Western mashup manhandled by Lemons, as if the singer grabbed the song by the throat and dope-slapped it into a proper drunken-carnal submission.
"Texas Goodnight" is the collection's centerpiece, featuring a humid and crepuscular first half followed by a powerhouse anthemic coda sporting some of Lemons' most staggeringly soulful vocals and Nikides' show-stopping slide guitar. This is a concert piece perfect to stretch out on, floating on the ebb of a great rock performance. "When I'm Done" is a bone crushing 12-bar steamroller, where Lemons gleefully grasps the soul of the listener, wringing it dry. Nikides honors SRV, while plowing his own field in the solo.
It is extremely hard to do something different in this most well-loved musical tradition, but Low Society does it. While acknowledged as musicians, Nikides and Lemons deserve much, much more attention. Once hearing their debut High Time
we have much to appreciate from what comes next.