Posts Tagged ‘ The Dirt Daubers ’

JD Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers – Wild Moon (Music Review)

Wild Moon cover

JD Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers – Wild Moon

The Dirt Daubers released Wild Moon under the name JD Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers, but this album may have deserved a more drastic name change. People only familiar with Wilkes from his other Dirt Daubers albums are in for a surprise: The raw roots country and stripped-down sound have been replaced by raw roots blues and a full rock sound. The change does feel more understandable if you’re familiar with Wilkes’ old band, The Legendary Shack-Shakers, as this basically provides a lot of what the Dirt Daubers’ previous albums had dropped from the Shack-Shakers. At the point, it appears that Wilkes doesn’t intend to stray that far from his old band. The defining aspects of the Dirt Daubers now appear to be that Wilkes has discarded his jester image for a slightly more serious one, and of course that half of the songs are fronted by Jessica Wilkes.

Jessica’s confident, brassy voice makes a good fit for these proto-jazz (white person blues?) songs. She still doesn’t have quite the range to carry an album on her own, but it’s hardly noticeable for her half. However, this means she is best suited for songs that showcase the Wilkes family’s quirky personality. Her “Apples and Oranges” is the album’s highlight, a swinging, rebellious song structured around an old nursery rhyme and playful lyrics. Otherwise, the songs she leads sound like blues standards about love and loss. They’re perfectly fine, but something that you could generally find in other bands’ catalogs.

JD is similarly restrained. I understand his seriousness about southern culture and his desire not to turn it into a joke, and that inclination is what always made his crazier songs so solid. Here we get Southern standards of the “creek-is-risin’-and-my-dead-baby’s-in-Heaven” variety (themes that appear multiple times), but his wit and fervor only make minor appearances. JD’s standout moments are the ones that recall the Shack Shakers: The out-of-nowhere proclamation that “it’s all a SNAFU, let’s go AWOL, you get FUGAZI and I’ll get FUBAR” in “Let It Fly”, or the electric acid-country of “Hidey-Hole”.

I feel bad saying that The Dirt Daubers sound best when they echo The Shack-Shakers, because in last year’s review I was very excited about the new life they breathed into traditional styles. But at least this time, the new band is definitely in the old one’s shadow. That’s not to say this isn’t good, and I like the energetic performances that bring a lot more fun than some of their genre contemporaries. I do hope that more of the personality from Wake Up Sinners shows up next time, though.

Grade: B-

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Best Albums of 2012

2012 may or may not have been a good year for music, but it certainly wasn’t a good year for my music reviews. I covered only 55 albums, and just 21 of them were released this year. (And 17 of those 21 were reviewed this month in a frantic attempt not to let the year slip by completely.)

This makes me glad for the precedent I set last year, in which I chose my best five albums of that year, as well as five older ones that I’d finally reviewed. I spent much of 2012 catching up on a backlog, and I’m obviously going into the new year with a lot of this year’s gems still undiscovered.

I was tempted to stick to last year’s format exactly, but I’m going to cut my count down to three in each category. While there were many good albums among the ones I reviewed, there are only a few that I’d actually be confident defending on a “year’s best” list. I’d still stand up for all the ones I listed last year, and I shouldn’t confuse things this time by including ones that are merely “very good” in a year-end wrap-up. My selections may be incomplete, but at least I expect that I will look back on them at this time next year and still feel that they deserved this.

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Two From the Dirt Daubers (Music Review)

The Dirt Daubers album cover

The Dirt Daubers – The Dirt Daubers

The Legendary Shack-Shakers’ crazy music and over-the-top vocals sometimes make it hard to remember that their performance comes out of a sincere love of the South and its traditions. From that perspective, it makes sense that frontman J.D. Wilkes would start a (slightly) calmer band with a stronger connection to his everyday culture. The Dirt Daubers feature acoustic instruments and a fairly even split between traditional songs and originals. Wilkes’ hell-raising energy is present as always, though, and the result is a raucous celebration of old-time country and folk. Though the lyrics don’t have the surprising intelligence of the Shack-Shakers, they are sharp and honest, and the songs fly by at two minutes each.

Of their two releases so far, Wake Up Sinners is the essential one. In comparison, the self-titled debut feels more like a calling card than a complete album. Only four of its ten songs are written by Wilkes, and one of those is a misguided remake of an existing Shack-Shakers song. Another is redone (and improved) on Wake Up Sinners. Even one of the traditional songs, “Sugar Baby”, has already appeared on a Shack-Shakers album. A couple of the tracks feel more like incomplete snippets than full songs. That’s not to say there aren’t some great efforts: The loose, belted-out rendition of “Black Eyed Susie” and the mellow “On The Front Porch” summarize the range of their energetic-but-respectful approach to musical traditions, and the gravel-voiced “Ode to Conrail Twitty” brings a punk efficiency to a song about trains and tradition.

Wake Up Sinners cover

The Dirt Daubers – Wake Up Sinners

Wake Up Sinnersbrings in the Shack-Shakers’ Mark Robertson on bass and promotes Jessica Wilkes, J.D.’s wife, to lead vocals. It’s at this point that they seem like a self-assured band instead of a side project. The fuller sound and more fleshed-out lyrics will be welcome to Shack-Shakers’ fans, even as Jessica’ contributions distinguish it as a separate band. She doesn’t show much range, sticking to a fast-paced, slightly aggressive delivery, but it fits the band perfectly. With the two vocalists taking turns on songs, variety never becomes a concern. The excellent harmonica performance deserves a mention, as well. It’s rare for that instrument to distinguish itself like this.

The traditional songs are much improved, as well. I’d never wanted to hear “Wayfaring Stranger” again, but J.D.’s upbeat rendition of it is exactly what was needed. Later, Jessica delivers “Say Darlin’ Say” (a different version of “Hush Little Baby”) as an enjoyable song for adults. The songs still feel a little slight, and even the best ones wear out their welcome if listened to repeatedly, but they’re great if you return to them the next day. I wouldn’t be surprised if the band’s true masterpiece is still ahead of them. If they improved this much from one album to the next, why should they stop now?

The Dirt Daubers: C+

Wake Up Sinners: B+