Checkered Past (Independent)
The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer are hardly the first white kids to stumble onto the idea of stripping the blues down to basics as a two-piece. If you haven’t heard of the Soledad Brothers, perhaps the names the White Stripes and the Black Keys might set off an alarm bell.
Where Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers differ from the industry blueprint on Checkered Past is that they actually sound like they might have been to the Mississippi Delta. Or at least sat down and listened to a Robert Johnson boxed set from start to finish. The first thing you notice on the emotive opener, “Shake It”, is that these guys come off as traditionalists with no desire to fix something that ain’t broken.
The multi-instrumentalist blues brothers aren’t completely living in a world of dirt-floor shacks and bathtub gin mills, though; there’s a faint radio-friendly sheen to tracks like “Roll With the Punches”. Still, purists will find plenty to crack a bottle of Jim Beam to, whether it be the mournful thumper “Are You Listening Lord?”, the organ-shimmered “Too Late Virginia”, or the slide-fortified “Can’t Judge a Book”.
Additional props go to Hall and Rogers not only for playing all the instruments here (including some mean harp), but for managing to sound much larger than a duo. And while we’re handing out compliments, is the Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer seriously not the greatest band name ever, even if it sounds more like the title of a pulp-fiction short story than a blues band?