"Head Under Water" by Brass Hip Flask x White Rat CultReview
There have been more "blues revivals" than there are blues standards (possibly. I may exaggerate) so it's not a term I'd use lightly. Nevertheless, there are currently a few bands around who are obviously taking inspiration from the blues (and by this I refer to early, raw, pre-war authentic blues) and channelling their contemporary perspectives on life through the intense & powerful lens of this form. One such, covered regularly in "Hot Music Live" are Stone Bear, and another are Brass Hip Flask. I reviewed the latter's "The Mountain" in April ("Do you like your blues authentic & raw? I do") & as a measure of the regard in which they are held, they were also invited to play on the Main Stage at the 2019 Godiva Festival.
They are shortly to release a new single which is a bit different to that last one & equally a bit special as it is a collaboration with White Rat Cult & was created in the latter's native Spain, namely "Head Under Water".
For this track, Brass Hip Flask's Stuart Mckissock plays his customary guitar & sings lead, Callum Mckissock is on drums & bass synth & Juan Novella performs on dobro & harmonica with all three providing the backing vocals.
The result is most impressive. The basis of the song remains within the afore mentioned early blues & so it doesn't lose the essence of the band's appeal nor integrity, yet it joins hands harmoniously with a much more contemporary styling: this sounds risky & potentially contrived in theory but they really pull it off to their great credit. Like all else I've heard from the band, it just comes across as natural & unforced. The icing on the cake may be that Stuart's guitar sound seems to meet the two chronologically separated eras in the stylings half way with a possible homage to what Ernie Isley played like in the early 1970s.
The song sets its stall out straight away, beginning in pure acoustic dobro style before the above more recent textures suddenly enter the picture & startlingly we are confronted with what might plausibly be Howlin' Wolf sitting in with the Isley Brothers. Later on we just as unexpectedly get a vocal interlude which is back to the "traditional" approach, sounding like a spiritual, sung on a work gang rather than in church.
The second paradox is that the beats are certainly very heavy & the lyrics downright ominous yet while in other hands it could easily have gone down a road signposted "Sabbath this way", these musicians have a lightness of touch which acts as an effective counterpoint.
I'm not sure how much in their own minds the musicians were taking risks with this approach: possibly it came straight out of the stimulus of the collaborative process & as I say, the end result is a real , cohesive song which sounds great, memorable & most importantly, true. Probably it was just their innate good taste & instincts at work which makes this work so very well.
To be honest, one might expect with a tradition this venerable that there was little left to say in the blues. Thank goodness songs like this prove that fear wrong.