THE DEAD EXS – Resurrection

dxAlthough the garage-blues sub-genre maintained an underground presence throughout the late 80s and 90s thanks to Billy Childish and Jon Spencer’s mighty Blues Explosion, it really only reached a broader public consciousness once everyone’s favourite red and white candy striped duo, The White Stripes, broke into the mainstream.

Keeping with similar musical traditions, The Dead Ex’s debut ‘Resurrection’ pulls together the best elements of The Blues Explosion with a hint of Childish’s ramshackle attitude – and while it brings little that’s new to the musical style in question, it’s not without a few gems.

The Dead Exs’ vocalist and guitarist is David Pattillo, a New York producer of note, having worked with a number of bands including The Hold Steady, Beastie Boys, Jakob Dylan and Alanis Morissette. For his own project, however, the production values are less than shiny; this Dead Exs release was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. The fuzz-driven vibes are similar to his project The Dirty Glamour (which has a similar feel to early Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Spanish duo Idealipsticks), but in direct comparison, The Dead Exs bring the listener fewer hooks and user-friendly qualities. However, what The Dead Exs lack in hooks, they make up for with power and grit.

The subtle ‘Shut Up and Love Me’ is based around a solid groove with dominant drums. Wylie Wirth’s style has presence, but maintains a very basic style. Patillo’s vocal is strong yet heavily filtered and a one-line chorus, intercut with rather uncharacteristic ‘whoo-hoos’, tops some great, yet fairly weighty slide guitar work. It’s with the boogie-blues of ‘Come Down Easy’ that The Dead Ex’s sound at their most assured, though. Wirth settles into a fabulous shuffle (which becomes heavily reliant on cymbals in places) over which, there’s a guitar groove recalling ‘Boom Boom’ by John Lee Hooker clashing with the youthfulness of the early white rhythm and blues of the 60s – albeit with a hugely increased volume.
It’s a recording which captures the bristling energy and sweat within the studio at the time of recording and in doing so, manages to encapsulate The Dead Exs’ pure musical style.

The slow, brooding ‘Gone’ offers the flip-side of the band’s sound and while it loses a sense of fun, in its place is a musical snapshot of a duo that have really hit their stride. While the lead guitar work rarely stretches beyond a bit of rudimentary string bending and a heavy reliance on distortion pedals, there’s something enjoyable about it’s almost primal qualities – in the same way there are thrills to be had by hearing The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion careening out of control, or experiencing J Mascis throwing in out of tune solos in unpredictable places during Dinosaur Jr numbers.

‘The Angel From New Orleans’ is driven by another great shuffle. It maintains listener interest for the duration and this in turn allows Pattillo to lay down a slide guitar line which – aside from a bluesy run in places – settles for being a sheet of unsubtle slide noise. It brings nothing you won’t have already heard from similar sounding garage blues, but even so, if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s got its share of hard-time, beer-soaked thrills. If you want to experience the band at full-pelt, then ‘Trouble In Kind’ more than delivers; throughout a heavily distorted blues workout, Patillio adopts a very thrashy, almost garage-punk approach to the slide guitar whilst Wirth smashes his kit in a relentless fashion. For what it offers, you’d be hard pushed to find better.

‘Whole Lotta Nothin’, however, couldn’t be more aptly named. Over rudimentary slide work, Pattillo wails and sobs like he’s being poked repeatedly with a stick for over two minutes. Naturally, it sounds like it’s building up to something, but by the time Wirth kicks in with a proper drum part, it’s a bit late in the day. This is a great shame, since his heavy drum sound has a great presence once again; and with that comes a change in tone from Pattillo’s guitar work, leaning farther towards a bottom end-fuzz. Bringing these elements in earlier really could have saved this number. Luckily, this is swiftly followed by one of the album’s best moments… ‘Nolita Strut’ is a cocky instrumental with Pattillo’s guitar taking on a heavily treated vibe – all pedals and overdrive, which combined with the swagger, creates an infectious ditty which sounds like a studio jam by The Dead Weather. Even when The Dead Exs briefly move away from the original riff, although Wirth’s drum fills seem a little disjointed from Pattillo’s heavy-handed approach to lead guitar, they manage to keep momentum. In all, although clocking in at a brief two and a half minutes, ‘Nolita Strut’ is superb; ‘Ressurection’ is worth seeking out just to hear this number.

While the limits of their chosen genre may mean there’s not much room for variation and David Pattillo does not always summon the energy bought by early Jon Spencer performances,‘Ressurection’ manages to be a fairly consistent release. There are more than enough garage rock thrills here for listeners who have a soft spot for the Blues Explosion’s pre-‘Extra Width’ grooves and other similar sounds to to get a fairly big kick out of The Dead Exs.

Listen at the widget below. Download is available on a pay what you want basis. If you like it, send the guys a few bucks if you can.

March 2011



It’s funny isn’t it? For an artist who has always strived to be so closely associated with the blues, Eric Clapton seems to have spent a large part of his solo career exploring non-blues music. In the mid 70s he showed a fondness for reggae, in the late 70s country, and during the second half of the 80’s he achieved huge success in the adult rock/pop field. Granted, there’s always been some blues along the way (in the case of 1994’s ‘From The Cradle’ and 2004’s ‘Me and Mr Johnson’, he even managed to deliver a couple of albums devoted completely to the genre), but with such a broad musical palette, it’s difficult to pigeonhole Clapton as a blues musician, even though that’s what he so desperately craves.

For this, his nineteenth solo studio release, Clapton offers a mix of covers and a couple of newly written numbers (Clapton himself only contributing one track – and even then, it’s a co-write with producer and general right hand man, Doyle Bramhall). As expected, ‘Clapton’ (the album) features a few decent blues numbers and a couple of okay other tracks. Probably what you’re not expecting, though, is for so much of the disc to feature versions of jazz standards from the 30s and 40s.

A rendition of Lil’ Son Jackson’s ‘Travelin’ Alone’ opens the album with a blues workout where Clapton’s guitar duels (but gently) with the dirtier tone of Doyle Bramhall. The grumbling blues is punctuated by bursts of yelping Hammond Organ, courtesy of Walt Richmond. Meanwhile, Clapton’s vocal is okay, but lacks the soufulness of some of his past performances. It provides some decent opening bait, but that promise is quickly ushered aside by the arrival of the first of ‘Clapton’s easy listening numbers. A laid-back rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Rockin’ Chair’ is led by gently brushed drums (subtly played by Abe Laboriel Jr), a piano (courtesy of Richmond, once again) and some really tasteful blues guitar played by Derek Trucks. While the lovely guitar work and piano flourishes have their moments, this is unchallenging even by Clapton’s standards. I may have been more forgiving had it closed this album, but to wheel this out as the second track?

A JJ Cale original, ‘River Runs Deep’ fares much better. While still rather easy on the ear, Cale’s style of roots music has a timeless quality, and hearing the man himself back Clapton is something always welcomed. While this track never pushes itself beyond twangy meandering, its six minutes never drags. The introspective warmth of the performance is given extra depth by the presence of sparingly used organ and brass. This could have easily found a home on Cale and Clapton’s ‘Road To Escondido’ release from 2006 and is almost guaranteed to please fans of that disc. Cale’s other contribution ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ is also one of the album’s best numbers. Busier than ‘River Runs Deep’, here, Clapton fronts a soulful number which features a smooth jazzy solo, a string section and horns, topped with Hammond Organ work from Paul Carrick. While it may not have the introspective spookiness of some of Cale’s best work, its classy arrangement makes this an album standout.

Irving Berlin’s much covered ‘How Deep Is The Ocean’ allows Clapton to deliver an easy, relaxed vocal against gentle orchestration and his hard-plucked acoustic guitar. As good as Clapton’s performance on this track may be, it’s not as good as his similar performance on Ray Charles’s ‘Hard Times’ (as featured on Clapton’s 1989 LP, ‘Journeyman’). Like ‘Rockin’ Chair’, I wouldn’t necessarily choose to listen to this if it weren’t part of a bigger mix of music, and while Clapton, no doubt, is playing music he enjoys, it’s possibly not going to be completely embraced by his huge fanbase.

A cover of ‘My Very Good Friend The Milkman’ (a tune best associated with Fats Waller) may have been given an air of New Orleans authentication by the presence of the legendary Allen Toussaint, but that – along with jazz man Wynton Marsalis guesting on trumpet – isn’t enough to save it’s three minute shuffling from being more than a bit bland. In a similar vein, Clapton’s treatment of Waller’s ‘When Somebody Thinks Your Wonderful’ just doesn’t sit right. While the music is tight, with Allen Toussaint’s piano work shining and the brass section really evoking the New Orleans jazz sound of the 1930s, hearing a fairly smooth voiced man from Surrey deliver the vocal just doesn’t seem right. I can imagine Dr John having a decent stab at this, but it’s not right for Clapton.

A solid rendition of Little Walter’s ‘Can’t Hold Out Much Longer’ brings this album a decent blues performance. It’s a number which features one of Clapton’s more classic sounding vocals, intercut with tiny bursts of his great blues guitar work. For this standard blues workout, he’s backed sparingly by Jim Keltner on drums, Willie Weeks on upright bass and Kim Wilson playing some dirty sounding blues harp, held together by Walt Richmond on the piano. Equally enjoyable, a run through of ‘That’s No Way To Get Along’ (originally by Memphis bluesman Robert Wilkins) is given a shake-up via a New Orleans influenced boogie. While this tune will be familiar to most people in its re-titled, bare-bones arrangement ‘Prodigal Son’ (as covered by The Rolling Stones in 1968), this rendition, featuring Clapton and JJ Cale in a vocal duet, is one of the album’s best numbers (isn’t it interesting that all three of this album’s most interesting numbers all feature Cale rather heavily, either in performance or song writing?). While Walt Richmond and Jim Keltner do a top job on piano and drums respectively, this busy arrangement is given extra charm by bluesman Derek Trucks guesting on slide guitar.

A duet with Sheryl Crow, ‘Diamonds Made From Rain’ is very slick. Both vocalists sound good together, though Clapton’s vocal dominates, rather surprisingly. The song itself is well written, but it’s rather ordinary arrangement means it doesn’t quite have the chops to make it a classic in either artists back catalogue. Clapton’s featured guitar solo has his trademark sound and is an equal match for his best late 80s work; it’s a comfort to know he can still play in such a way… Listening to huge chunks of ‘Clapton’, you could be forgiven for thinking he’d given up, having handed so much responsibility to his guest players.

The gentle acoustic blues of ‘Hard Time Blues’ allows Clapton to exercise the softer edges of his vocal style, but since the best guitar playing on the track comes from Doyle Bramhall’s timeless slide work, this seems to be another track which Clapton glides through on autopilot. A treatment of Snooky Prior’s ‘Judgement Day’ is presented here in an effortless rendition. While Clapton’s vocal is pleasing, it’s the counter melody from the backing vocal which lifts the piece. Clapton’s musical input here is negligible too, since most of the lead work comes courtesy of Kim Wilson’s harmonica.

The Clapton-Bramhall composition ‘Run Back To Your Side’ features a slight JJ Cale-esque feel (likely to please fans of Clapton’s classic 1974 outing ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’) as well as hints of Robert Johnson’s ‘If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day’. The whole band finds their groove – even Clapton himself sounds like he’s slipped on an old pair of shoes, musically speaking. A backing vocal from Nikka Costa, Lynn Mabry and Debra Parsons helps give this the kind of rousing send-off that Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy would have back in the old days.

Returning to similar territory as ‘Rockin’ Chair’, the jazz standard ‘Autumn Leaves’ closes the disc. While Clapton’s hushed baritone could be kindly described as pleasant, this song sounds like elevator music delivered by a tired old man. Granted, Clapton’s post-Derek and the Dominos career may not have always had much fire, but it has rarely sunk to this level of easy listening. He may be backed by a rather classy selection of hired hands, but that doesn’t make his renditions of the jazz standards any more interesting. Rather interestingly, the number of covers on this disc, coupled with a fondness for easy listening material calls to mind another 2010 release – a release from one of El Clappo’s closest peers – ‘Emotion and Commotion’ by Jeff Beck.

This album certainly brings plenty in the way of star performers, and ‘Clapton’ isn’t a really bad record by any means (and it’s certainly far better than the aforementioned Jeff Beck release). But, that said, it’s not great either – its gentle approach means most of it drifts past without making too much impact. Repeated listens uncover a few hidden depths, but it’s still one of Clapton’s most lightweight offerings.  It is generally not a record you will return to time and again, as you possibly will have done with some of EC’s classics.

Many Clapton die-hards will undoubtedly sing his praises and he may even bring in a few new listeners (especially those who enjoy easy vocal jazz). For most of Clapton’s more casual listeners, though, there are a good few of the man’s albums they need to check out before even considering acquiring this one.

October 2010