Jim Dead Pray For Rain album launch. 13th Note, Glasgow. 4th December 2015

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When Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Jim Dead‘s new album  Pray For Rain  a few weeks ago we called him a “shamanistic weatherman.” We was only joking, honestly, but of course the album launch took place on one of the filthiest nights of the year, gale force winds blowing horizontal sheets of rain that numbed your cranial nerves. Think his next album should be called “Here Comes The Heatwave.” Anyhoo (as Mr. Dead likes to say) a grand crowd donned appropriate gear and headed to the basement of the 13th Note, attracted perhaps by the prospect of seeing three fine bands and getting a copy of the new disc all for the princely sum of a fiver, one bright spot on such a dreicht nicht.

The bloody weather actually meant your intrepid reviewer missed the opening act, Traquair & the Tranquilizers although verbal reports from the early birds were all positive. We were in time to be stunned (in a nice way) by the sonic ferocity of Dog Moon Howl, Craig Hughes’ power trio, who slammed into a set of bone crushing psychedelic blues wails. Like an early ZZ Top prowling in werewolf mode Hughes’ guitar at times sounded like a jet airplane taking off with Blues Like A Hammer the standout here although their version of Hendrix’s Manic Depression was just about as close you could get these days to seeing the man himself. I didn’t see any ears bleeding but that’s not to say it didn’t happen. A fine example of the visceral power of rock music and recommended if you want your Mojo recharged.

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Last time we saw Jim Dead playing with The Doubters there was a Crazy Horse vibe about them. Tonight it’s a different set of Doubters and the dynamic compass points more towards the primal rock vibe of bands like the MC5 or The 13th Floor Elevators. The songs are relatively short, no lengthy guitar wanderings, instead shards of notes splintering the beat. They opened with the opening song on the album, Wooden Kimono, its chunky rhythm spellbinding, a revamped Redbone ghost dance. Bone Blue Moon, an older song, followed with a radical makeover. Previously an exploration of the guitar’s meandering possibilities (as on Neil Young’s Zuma) tonight it was spikier with the guitars exploding instead of wandering. May The Road Rise was a low riding menace of a song, liquid guitars at times recalling Television’s punk plasticity while Lovesick Blues hammered in with Dead and The Doubters sounding like a more unhinged version of Roky Erickson and his Aliens. Some oldies (a fantastic Jim Langstrom Must Die) and more from the new album proved that Dead has the potential to move from the pool of local talent into open waters.

 

Jim Dead & The Doubters. Pray For Rain

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Been a while since we heard from Jim Dead, Glasgow’s premier purveyor of dry gulch rock. His last missive from the missions was  I’m Not Lost back in 2013 where he and his compadre Craig Hughes plugged in with a crackling intensity. On Pray For Rain Dead has resurrected his occassional backing band The Doubters (on this occasion comprised of Stuart Begley on guitar; Frankie Coia on bass and Tommy Clark on drums ) and with his new posse in tow seems to have been spending some time in a bar with a jukebox populated with early ZZ Top and Creedence discs. It’s a cantankerous listen, scribbled with quarrelling guitars and a heavy bass/drum thud, Dead’s voice wailing like a biblical prophet. While his previous releases have always had a whiff of Morricone inspired dusty vistas here the gloves are off and the band are howling at the moon.

One of the highlights of Dead’s previous full length album, Ten Fires, was the loping death sentence of John Landstrom Must Die and it’s this song that is the template for Pray For Rain. Dead and Begley’s guitars spar throughout be it the on the jagged juggernaut that is the opening song, Wooden Kimono, the sludge ridden blues riff of the title song or the evil slide opening to You Coulda Said, the latter especially invigorating. There’s evidence of Dead’s allegiance to metal with Lovesick Blues sounding like an unholy marriage of Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer as Dead screams, “You don’t love me, I don’t like me too” over an almighty riff. And overall the riff is king here as Dead & The Doubters demolish the melodies on their steamroller ride with May The Road Rise an almighty example.

There are glimpses of Dead’s earlier incarnations. Crows On The Wire is a jaunty country rock romp (although it’s wired to the moon with its zinging guitar lines) and Home returns to his role as a shamanistic weatherman singing, “There’s a wind coming in from the west, woman by my side says she knows best. It’s taken all I have just to find a place where I can stop and have a rest.” It opens up with a resigned air, slowly jangled guitar over a slow beat before an excellent fuzzed guitar solo weighs in. This yin/yan dynamic persists throughout the song with Dead sounding increasingly desperate. The album closes with the slow burn of I’m Not Lost (a song that wasn’t on the EP of the same name) that harks back to the Neil Young like epics of Ten Fires. A seven minute long miasma of thrashing and squalling guitars with a Crazy Horse backbeat it pummels the listener into surrender.

Jim Dead & The Doubters will be playing at the album release show at the 13th Note in Glasgow on Friday 4th December with support from Craig Hughes’ Dog Howl Moon. If Dead can summon up the intensity he’s captured here it should be a fine night.

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Jim Dead. Ten Fires

What is Americana? The simple answer might be that it’s music (or literature, art) that refers to America, in particular to that continent’s (primarily the US of A) heritage. So a broad church with country, bluegrass, jazz, swing and god knows how many others getting a shout in. But are, for example, Kings of Leon Americana? U2? Jack Johnston? The answer of course is yes and no. Or rather, it depends. It depends on the singer, the song, the listener, the situation and for an awful lot of folk in the end it doesn’t matter. And perhaps therein is the rub. For if it does matter to you then you probably know the answer already.
Americana is a feel, an intuition, a knowledge of and respect for, well, Americana. It has depth, history, tradition. Tradition that harks back to the great immigrations that peopled the USA, that recalls the natives who were displaced by the newcomers, the poverty and violence experienced by the Negro slaves, the violence of the civil war, the culture that grew out of all of these. The tradition continued in modern times, the civil rights struggles, the protest songs, the discovery of their own culture by the late sixties generation which fed into the No Depression generation of the eighties which in itself reached back into the distant past also.
It’s easy for anyone anywhere in the world to be captivated by Hollywood cowboys, Lonnie Donegan records or books by Cormac McCarthy. Dig deeper and chances are you’ll find Americana, a fabulous land with a fabulous story. And best of all you don’t have to be American.
Jim Dead is a man who I reckon has done his fair share of digging. So much so that he inhabits a mythical Americana hometown, Deadsville. Deadsville is a mixture of all of the above however Dead has sculpted it into shape. A dust blown dread place with frontier justice, where gunslingers are replaced by guitar slingers, where the blues are amplified and dragged from the past and shot into Technicolor glory.
Calling up a new version of his band The Doubters consisting of Craig Hughes on guitar, James Duffin on bass and Tommy Duffin on percussion and harmonica, Dead offers up twelve songs that portray Deadsville as a scary place to be. Telling stories of lynchings, drugs and death the band walk throughout the landscape with a powerful swagger. Several of the songs here reach epic proportions both in length and delivery. The combination of Dead’s and Hughes’ guitars conjure up visions of Crazy Horse and the Drive By Truckers. While there are quieter moments such as the opening song Silence has No Place Here, Hotel, (with a touch of Willie Vlautin about it) and My Heavy Heart, My Aching Bones, there remains a sense of doom, of hopelessness in them. However the big hitters here are when the band plug in. The loping Bone Blue Moon has the feel of hank Williams backed by Creedence Clearwater, the song does indeed feel as if Dead is howling at the moon. Untitled has some spooky, almost psychedelic tinges, when Dead repeats the refrain Baby, Baby there is a sense of what could have been if Led Zeppelin were an American band. Hughes’ playing on this epic is spectacular, full of menace, coiled, ready to kill. Mean–Eyed River Snake is a mean tale of the death of a girl as retold by a confused, possibly pilled up youth who may have seen too many drive in horrors. It ends in a confusion of babbling while Hughes’ guitar rumbles in the background. The Hallelujah Revolver perhaps tries too hard here to achieve a proper dynamic, a gospel song from hell it’s the one song where the feel is muddied, Having seen a gobsmackingly good live version done by this line up of the band it’s possible we were spoiled beforehand. Honours must go to the stand out song here however. Jim Landstrom Must Die is a killer track. A deceptively jaunty riff leads into a sorry tale of a jive travelling salesman who gets lynched after selling bottles with “stars that fell from from the sky.” Peckinpaw in parts, “ hang him up by his legs, slit his throat so the streets turn ruby red” the band really gel with some tremendous bass playing and a cracking vocal performance from Dead.
If this album was by a crew from the south west of the USA chances are it would be hailed to the heavens. As it is it’s perhaps the best example I’ve heard so far of a local band setting up residence in that fabled Americana. Definitely one to buy.
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Jim Landstrom Must Die

Jim Dead and The Doubters album launch, 13th Note, June 2nd.

Jim Dead comes from Deadsville. An imagined place, more in the mind than on the map. Occasional visitors to this shadowland include Jim White, Hank Williams, Jason Molina, The Drive By Truckers and even Neil Young. Here the music is slow and thick, churning like the Mississippi, rich and full bodied. Jim Dead has captured this on his latest release; Ten Fires and tonight unveiled it in a hot cellar to an appreciative Glasgow crowd. This was possibly a unique event as the Doubters consist of the musicians who recorded the album with Dead but in their non Deadsville lives they all have other gigs. Reconvened for the album launch it would be a pity if they fade away as they conjured up a blissful, noisy wall of sound. Consisting of Dead on guitar and vocals, Craig Hughes on guitar and the Duffin brothers, James and Tommy on bass and drums they punched their way through several songs from the album. The twin guitars cranked up an almighty mess of sound with Craig Hughes sparking off of Dead’s solid rhythm on a sound that was reminiscent of Crazy Horse or Magnolia Electric Co. Wading through lengthy renditions of Jim Langstrom Must Die, Bone Blue Moon and Mean eyed River Snake there were several spine tingling moments wrung from Hughes’ Gibson but Dead’s knack for a well written song with strong hooks meant that this never descended into jamdom. The band ended the set with epic renditions of Untitled and The Hallelujah Revolver. Untitled started off with an Iberian Miles Davis feel before a psychedelic tinge crept in with Hughes playing arabesque lines but the closing song trumped all before it with the Duffin bothers in particular adding an almighty edge to a powerful and inspired performance. Dead hollered as if his life depended on it. A great end to the show.
Mention must be made of the support acts. Glasgow duo The Colts delivered a fine set of acoustic country tinged songs with a Ryan Adams/Keef Richards flavour while Craig Hughes showed us his day job playing powerful bottleneck acoustic blues. A bear of a man he can be ferocious on the guitar but his bottleneck style and use of sustain reminded one of Zoot Horn Rollo’s instructions from the good Captain. His song The TR7’s Have All Gone to Heaven was a particular crowd pleaser

Jim Dead

Well, with a name like that you have to listen, don’t you? I heard Mr. Dead a few weeks back on a session he did on the Sunny Govan Switchback. With an interesting list of influences and some songs that beggared belief that they didn’t originate in some dusty back town off of Route 66 I went in search of him. With two releases, a solo album and a single (backed by The Doubters) under his belt he had this to say for himself.

You were in a “succession of local bands” before coming to your present incarnation. What type of music were you playing then and what led you to the current set up?

I sang and occasionally played guitar in rock bands since 1997. My big influences were the bands that came form the ‘Alternative Rock’ explosion in the 90’s … Nirvana, Blind Melon, Jane’s Addiction etc. Among the rock music I had some Johnny Cash and Tom Waits … but I started paying a great deal of attention to alternative Country / Americana in 1998 or so after I heard Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac and Richard Buckner’s Bloomed and Devotion & Doubt. They were shaping how I wrote songs and I brought that influence in to the music I was writing with the band … certainly within the lyrics … and Whistle of a Distant Train came from then. I guess Jim Dead began when the ideas I was bringing in weren’t sounding as I imagined. I never specifically wanted to play country music, but I wanted to strip the songs right back and focus on the words and the stories.

I read of a T Shirt that said “ Old Punks Never Die, they just go Country.” Not that we’re saying you’re old but any relevance there?

Could be that it’s easier to sing? I guess it would be fair to say that it’s a lot easier to tell a story without shouting. It’s also a completely different feeling … and a complete departure. It’s like missing the rush-hour and getting a seat on the bus.

Who or what are the particular influences in your style and songwriting?

There’s so many … Johnny Cash is obviously a huge influence, as is Richard Buckner, Tom Waits, Mark Lanegan, Damien Jurado and Steve Earle. There’s been other artists that I’ve heard over the years that have had an impact on what I’d like to bring to my music, but I always tend to come right back to those early influences.

Where does Jim Dead and the music come from?

I have an interest in the mysterious, and that Golden Age of Medicine Shows and Carnivals. It’s about a community that existed back then, where those sorta shows would come along and stir up the imagination of the locals … so I write about everyday things that happen in a sleepy town called Deadsville.

Go Tell the Congregation was all about hope … and the familiar settings for bleak Americana records, but it was doing things a little different without being gimmicky. For me the album was a reaction, and exploring how people react to things.

Your album was a stripped down affair, the EP with the Doubters had more flesh on it. Will you be pursuing one of these directions or continuing on both fronts?

At the moment I’m working on my own and with the Doubters. Most gigs that I’ve played have been solo, though those guys had been involved in two great events at the end of last year. Essentially it’s solo where I get the most enjoyment … maybe because that’s how the songs were written and nothing gets lost. But it’s been great to see how the songs translate with those guys and I’m sure I’ll keep recording with them and we’ll do some shows. I see The Doubters as a collective … and there’s still work to be done. I want to stretch myself … see what we can do.

Aside from the usual suspects you mention Giant sand/Howe Gelb as influences, when did you hear of them? Anyone else that you haven’t mentioned?

A friend of mine introduced me to Giant Sand … there’s something about the sound that just pulls me in. At times it’s ramshackle. And when you listen to their discography it’s sorta like listening to Howe Gelb’s never-ending road trip … crazy, vibrant, dusty and tired.

Whiskeytown, The Afghan Whigs are also great bands that have a bit of an influence in how I structure things.

Current favourite albums/songs?

Surprisingly I think Johnny Cash is the only ‘country’ artist that I’ve been listening to. American VI was a huge record … I just think it’s great. I’ve been listening to Mos Def [The Ecstatic] and the Wu-Tang Clan [Iron Flag and 8 Diagrams] … though I guess you could say that there’s a link between Hip-Hop and Country. And a friend of mine has introduced me to James Apollo. And Craig Hughes’ Pissed Off, Bitter and Willing to Share.

Finally, what’s coming up. Anything you want to plug?

Since this is a wonderful chance to plug myself, my debut record, Go Tell the Congregation, is available via iTunes, CDbaby and Amazon MP3 … all the latest Jim Dead news is on MySpace.com/JimDead.

I have a few gigs coming up which should be great. I’m playing Café Tibo on Duke Street with Lou Vargo on April 18th … I’m particularly looking forward to that. Then I’m playing at That Devil Music (The State Bar) alongside Craig Hughes and Man Gone Missing on May 7th. The Doubters are playing The Free Candy Sessions at The Liquid Ship on Great Western Road on May 14th.

I’m also working on some new songs and I’m hoping to get some new music out there soon.

Best of luck with that then.

Bone Blue Moon when done with The Doubters has a forlorn, fatalistic sense about it. The electric guitar sings as if in a canyon and Dead sounds like he’s kinfolk of Will Oldham on a song that drinks deep from the dark well of American folk. On the same song and shorn of the ornamentation provided by the band the solo Dead sounds as if he’s been touched by the ghost of Harry Smith. Spooky stuff indeed..

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Jim Dead and the Doubters. Bone Blue Moon

Jim Dead. Before I Die