The garage blues duo Black Pistol Fire was born from the ashes of The Shananigans following the release of their 2008 LP ‘Bombshell Baby’. After relocating from Canada to Texas and attracting the attention of White Stripes producer Jim Diamond, Eric Owen (drums) and Kevin McKeown (guitar/vocals) released a self-titled album under the Black Pistol Fire name in 2011. An EP, ‘Shut Up!: A Tribute to Little Richard’, followed in 2012.
On ‘Big Beat ‘59’, their second full outing, McKeown and Owen mean business. Across eleven slabs of raw, bluesy rock and garage noise (all dished up with a healthy rock ‘n’ roll spirit), they sound truly fantastic.
One of the album’s best tracks ‘Lay Low’ combines a great guitar tone, raw vocal and crashing drums to create a tune that has a huge, cocky presence. In terms of general mood, it sounds like a vocal-led extension to the Dead Exs’ classic instrumental ‘Nolita Strut’. The reverb dripping from the very basic live recording technique just gives it a sense of energy that so many studio recordings lack. More complex – but retaining the raw spirit which drives the band – ‘Dead Love’ comes across as if Black Pistol Fire have blended a Chuck Berry groove with a riff which sounds like an ugly, distorted reimagining of Led Zeppelin’s ‘That’s The Way’ (a riff likely “borrowed” from bluesmen of old anyway), over which McKeown’s voice has plenty of presence. If you want tunes delivered with maximum groove but minimal fuss, look no further.
Elsewhere, you’ll find much more of the same: ‘Busted & Blue’ has a brilliant bluesy edge that wouldn’t be out of place on The White Stripes’ ‘De Stijl’ plus a quirky guitar riff which really tops things off well. In terms of confidence and style, this is Black Pistol Fire’s masterwork; meanwhile, ‘Hot Mess’ is a simple back-porch stomper and lead track ‘Crows Feet’ blends a pleasing staccato guitar part with some first class slide work, achieving some thrilling results in the process. As the track pulls to a climax, the duo go all out, crashing and riffing, giving the sense it could go off the rails at any time.
The musical cuckoo ‘Young Blood’ stretches the band’s regular boundaries a little more than usual and adopts a rock ‘n’ roll/doo-wop vibe. A slow arrangement driven by clanging chords has the air of a twisted Phil Spector tune, allowing McKeown to push his vocal range. There are still a couple of full speed sections where Black Pistol Fire move back into their comfort zone – with Eric Owen absolutely hammering his kit in the process – but despite the pull between old fashioned doo wop, garage blues and all out aggression, it works well.
In case you are unsure, ‘Big Beat ’59’ contains some of the finest garage rock/blues ever. The end result may not always be particularly varied, but then, what more can you do with a drum kit, a guitar and some fuzz pedals? In terms of overall thrills, however, this is up there with the unmissable Dead Exs debut. If you loved The Dead Exs, adored The White Stripes or have found yourself strangely drawn to parts of Billy Childish’s immense catalogue, you absolutely need this record in your collection. Essential listening.