Barrelhouse hasn’t exactly been on a roll in its five-year career. Instead of flowing with the trends, the Orange County band’s blend of traditional blues and ‘60s-vintage rock and soul influences is staunchly classicist.
Except for a handful of high-profile gigs at local blues festivals, the seven-member band hasn’t been able to break out of the grass-roots club-circuit or attract the interest of record companies.
But singer Steave Ascasio and his mates (all go by Southern-sounding stage names, Ascasio’s being Harlis Sweetwater) seem to have the persistence in the face of adversity of true blues men and soul survivors. This cassette-only calling card finds the band continuing to mine its roots with sharp, spirited musicianship and catchy songwriting that usually rises above mere rehash.
Three of the four tracks are keepers, especially the imaginative title song. Pushed by a lean, gutsy, work-song beat of hand claps, bass drum thuds and tambourine shakes, the leathery-voiced Harlis and a drunken slide guitar tell the tale of a crime of passion in which a shovel (namely, the one belonging to Albert, whoever he is) is both the murder weapon and the means of burying the bodies.
In a delightfully fanciful last verse, the unrepentant killer (he caught his woman trysting with another man and dispatched them both in a fit of rage), still wielding Albert’s shovel, vows to dig his way up from hell and into heaven. It’s a rich, deeply rooted and instantly memorable song, delivered with a wired, McCartney-esque blues shout.
Speaking of McCartney, “Thru a Window” marries a Beatlesque feel with snappy, New Orleans horns and a guitar coda that echoes Free’s “All Right Now.”
“Move Me,” a funky, catchy and exuberant love song, echoes the cadences and “you did, you did” refrain of the Sam and Dave/ZZ Top nugget “I Thank You.”
Only “I’ll Satisfy You,” a lustful plea that matches bits from Otis Redding (Harlis’ main man) and Jimi Hendrix, fails to make something fresh out of the past.
Available from Barrelhouse, (714) 437-8576; P.O. Box 9200-466, Fountain Valley, CA 92708.
Albums are rated on a scale of * (poor) to **** (excellent), with *** denoting a solid recommendation.