I’ve written several times about how much I appreciate artists pushing the boundaries of their art form. Without these courageous people who challenge themselves and we as audience members by asking “What if” we would rarely find the next great sound, or visual image, or even the next horizon.
We don’t always have to like what they discover, but we should always respect their journey.
Last year I, along with most of the world, discovered the Balkun Brothers through their first release, ReDRova, which garnered some good reviews and more than a little airplay. It was quite the departure from the standard blues issue; the Balkuns were an interesting mix of blues, metal, and with just enough punk to spice up the attitude factor several points.
While they were out on tour with Popa Chubby they found an ally and someone who helped them produce and record their latest CD on DixieFrog Records, BALKUN BROTHERS. This album is all about the duo, heck the performers on the album include the two Balkun Brothers – Steve on guitars and vocals and Rick on drums and vocals; and Dave Welles on piano.
Eleven of the twelve songs are written by the Balkuns, and the one that isn’t is written by the blues with attitude master himself, Johnny Winter.
Within a fraction of a second of Been Drivin’ starting off the album, you know that you are in for something different. They are assured musicians, but the sound sounds like so much more than a couple of guys playing chords against heavy drums. It’s hard to define the music quickly, but you can hear various influences. It’s going to be an interesting ride.
The tempo slows down a fraction with I Know What Ya’ Did, but the intensity stays high. The song has a little touch of swamp in it and it has an ominous feel to it as well. There is a real menace to this song, a real bite.
Steve drives the next song, She Got It All, with some good slide work while Rick adds a driving beat. So far there is nothing quiet about these boys – they are pounding their songs hard and I can only beat that the younger crowd that catches them in a club would go nuts over them.
We start off a little more old school with Control Yourself and some nice guitar work. The Balkuns quickly move it more into their wheelhouse and the song has more of their signature sound. The harmonies are good and I have a hard time believing that this is a two-man operation.
Cold Heart starts out driving hard and never really lets up. It definitely has a metal edge to it with pounding drums, driving guitar and vocals that seem like they are on a different plane.
The brothers get a little funky with Pawn Shop with the sad tale of a musician having to pawn his guitar. The bass line turns into an electrified guitar break and I could actually see this one (maybe in a different interpretation) being handled by a number of the old masters. Great songwriting on this one.
Johnny Winter’s Mean Town Blues gets Balkunized next and it feels right at home in their hands. Nice guitar work on top of those driving drums makes for a great sound. It just shows that they are capable of taking other artists’ music and doing capable covers without losing their own identity. Listen for the crazy Bo Diddley beat.
The Painkillers starts off with some psychedelia that morphs into a stronger backbeat. The vocals on this number are pure emotion, the singer just reaching deep into his gut to pull out his voice. A very strong song.
There’s some more funk with Bapadubap, and no I don’t have a clue as to the meaning behind the word. There’s a little soulful hip hop flavor with this song and I guess that the title refers more to an emotion than an actual word. Whatever, it’s still got a good beat to it and it’s a fun song.
Things really slow down for the start of Jail Bird. It’s got a real Delta flavor and the arrangement starts out with simple instrumentation. Whichever Balkun is singing, the growl in the voice fits beautifully and the addition of the piano is a great touch. One of my favorite songs on the album.
The old school style continues with the swamp laced Storm For The Devil. It’s another song with power guitar over driving drums, but it still has that Delta feel and it catches your soul quickly. A great follow up to the previous song.
The Balkuns end the album with Rainy Day Front Porch Blues. Talk about old school, this starts out with a jaunty little guitar plays while the rain falls all around. This is the most stripped down of any sound on the album. Seems like just when you think you figure these guys out, the really change the questions in a big way.
Like they did with their last album, the Balkun Brothers are hitting the road playing in front of every crowd they can find. They are looking to bring some younger audiences to the blues with their own brand of music and if sheer force of will can accomplish that, they just may be the ones to do it.
Make no mistake about it, BALKUN BROTHERS is not for everyone. Many purists will not be attracted to this album, but perhaps some who are looking for a different musical adventure might find themselves really enjoying their approach. Somehow I think the guys couldn’t care less about what I think, they are just happy to be pushing boundaries.
Frankly, I’m glad they’re doing it.
To find out more about them, to pick up some of their earlier CDs or to find out where they will be playing, check out http://balkunmusic.com/. I see that they are scheduled to play in Richmond in late May but the venue isn’t settled yet. I will keep you posted as soon as I know something, because I want to be there to catch them live.