Dustin Arbuckle’s year is still young, but if the guy at the recent New Brunswick, Canada, gig is any indicator, he may want to plan for longer set lists.
“We went up to do the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival Winter Concert series in Fredericktown [New Brunswick, Canada],” Arbuckle told us a week or so ago by phone. “That’s a great festival that they do up there in September, and they’ve got a pretty devoted following, so their winter concert series, even though it’s a club gig, is pretty well attended. At the end of the night, we said we were going to do two songs, and this guy up in front shouted out ‘10 more songs!’ We finished up the two, and he says, ‘Hey, you owe us eight more songs!’ That was good.”
Festival audiences, even if they’re just hangin’ at the club gigs, can be a little numbed into complacency by the end of a long night, but Moreland & Arbuckle aren’t likely to let anyone leave without getting their molars rattled a little.
Touring behind their second major label release, Just A Dream, the Kansas-based duo of harpist/vocalist Arbuckle and guitarist Aaron Moreland (with drummer Brad Horner on the road) summon tweeter-ripping specters of Delta and Chicago blues figures into broad, impolite, elbowthrowing giants. The CD’s pitiless opener “The Brown Bomber” opens with Arbuckle’s juke-joint hollering and is propelled by Moreland’s milewide riffing, leading into icy South Side workouts like “Travel Every Mile” and the vaguely sinister “Troll,” with Moreland cranking on his custombuilt, four-stringed, cigar box guitar.
This is a partnership reaching into the deep recesses of traditional blues forms for structure and harmonic reference, but driving them into something like diesel-fumed beasts, dark and sludgy and menacing.
Minus some of the voltage, this is what gutbucket blues, two or three generations ago, was always supposed to be.
The CD hasn’t garnered raves from the New York Post or USA Today, which might have missed it altogether had the band’s previous release, Flood, not landed them onstage last year with big timers like ZZ Top, Robert Cray and Buddy Guy.
Clearly, the decade-long partnership of these two guys and withering road miles (they clocked more than 8,000 on the odometer touring behind Flood alone) are starting to pay off, but remaking Flood as a momentum-sustaining follow-up wasn’t really an option.
“I think part of [Just A Dream] was just the natural evolution our music’s do with the sounds. And it was a ‘mission accomplished.’ We took a very meticulous approach to it, we spent a lot more time in the studio than we usually do, getting things right.”
But one of the CD’s surprises comes at the end, when the band leans off the distortion (a little) and takes a gallop through a Steve Cropper original, “White Lightnin’,” with The Man himself, the guitarist behind some of the great Stax singles of 40 plus years ago, tossing in a sleek, slippery third-verse solo.
Whoa, Steve Cropper? Of Booker T. & The M.G.’s?
“We were introduced to Steve at a wedding. Our former manager was a friend of his, and we get to chatting and really hit it off. And it was great, just sittin’ there talking about music with Steve Cropper. This is a guy was an integral part of some of my favorite music of all time. Otis Redding, Sam and Dave. All that stuff. So, getting to talk about, say, what Duck Dunn did on his bass line for “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” … you get a sense of what a nice guy he is and how down to earth he is. It was like talking about those records with one of your buddies.
“So not long after, he sent us a song, said ‘Here, you guys just take this and do what you will with it.’ We ended up doing something entirely different than the demo he sent us, and he loved it and asked if he could play on it.
“What were we going to say to that? No?”
Well, probably not.
“Exactly. It was a tremendous honor to have him be a part of it,” Arbuckle says, “and he played exactly what the song needed.”
ON THE BILL: Moreland & Arbuckle play Blues & Greens (The Outlook Hotel) on Thursday, March 29. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 day of show. 800 28th St., Boulder, 303-443-3322.
Correction: This article has been updated with the correct location of the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival