Down down, deeper and down – for a variety of reasons that could be the Crow Black Chicken slogan.
Let’s deal with the geography first. Last year, when I first got hold of their second album Rumble Shake, I assumed from their sound that CBC were a bunch of hairies in hats from the Southern states somewhere – Texas or Florida maybe. If the title of this new live album seems to confirm that assumption, don’t be misled. Hairy they may be, and they hail from the south alright, but it’s the south of Ireland – Cork and Clonmel, to be exact.
Then there’s singer and guitarist Christy O’Hanlon’s voice, a deep, drawling growl that sounds like it belongs in the bayou. And finally there’s their sound, which often accents distinctive, heavy bass from Stephen McGrath, sometimes gritty with distortion for good measure – unless that’s just the amps buzzing as they give it large. While all this is going on drummer Gev Barrett is the glue that holds things together, forgoing flash in favour of substance.
All of the above is in evidence with ‘John Lee Wee’, from debut album Electric Soup, which opens proceedings with a typically low rumble of bass, as a precursor to an urgent, ringing riff and groaning vocal. The following ‘White Lightning’ takes a brighter, more upbeat turn, ahead of a moody guitar solo from O’Hanlon. As with much of their stuff, influences seem to be apparent here and there, but you can’t quite put your finger on them. Is there a vague Tex-Mex, ZZ Top slant to ‘Bijou Creole’ for example, with O’Hanlon adding his first turn of slippery slide guitar over McGrath’s rolling bass? Frankly, who cares? The point is it’s good stuff.
Highlights include the mean and gritty ‘Hang ‘Em High’, with throbbing bass giving way to a cinematic, twanging guitar theme; and ‘Freedom’, where O’Hanlon’s guitar comes into its own, squalling and scudding over pulsing, wandering bass.
Okay, so maybe there’s a bit too much one-paced noodling in the middle of the set, as on ‘Panta Rhei’ for example. But you have to balance that with the outstanding ‘Rumble Shake’, an innovative slice of funked-up, distorted boogie that does exactly what it says on the tin, its only failing being that it’s over too soon. They’re not quite done mind you, as they then close out with a convincing exploration of ‘John the Revelator’, holding back with a tense, menacing start before letting rip.
The crowd can be heard going nuts towards the end, and in fact there’s a definitively live feel to Deep South throughout, with glasses clattering and people shouting in the background, and O’Hanlon adding some hilarious banter to the mix. For a band with just two studio albums behind them, Crow Black Chicken have dished up a pretty damn confident live document – catch this video of ‘WhiteLightning’ for a taste.