Friday, January 30, 2015

Low Society – You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down |Album Review

Low Society – You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down

Icehouse Records 12 tracks / 56:20

You can find blues in any flavor you like: Delta, Chicago style, Memphis style, jazz-influenced, blues-rock, and stuff that just defies categorization. Low Society provides the latter, pushing the limits of blues with their own high-energy rocking sound.

Low Society is fronted by the formidable Mandy Lemons who is from Houston, but made her way through New York City to finally end up in the rock and roll capital of the world: Memphis, Tennessee. The other major part of this band’s equation is Sturgis Nikides, a guitarist who was originally inspired by seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. It sounds like he has not put his axe down since that day in 1964, as he is a masterful player in the blues-rock world, including his own brand of mind-bending slide work.

These two got together in 2008 in the Big Apple and hit it off, writing and recording and playing the first of hundreds of gigs. Eventually they moved to Memphis, where they were able to learn another way to approach the blues from one its the masters, saxophonist Dr. Herman Green. Low Society released their very good debut album, High Time, in 2011 and they have not let up, including a performance at the 2014 International Blues Challenge.

You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down is their sophomore album, and it is truly something to behold. Sturgis and Mandy laid down a dozen tracks that include ten Nikedes/Lemons originals, and two cool covers. They were joined on this effort by a super-tight backline of Nick Dodson on bass and Mike Munn behind the drum kit. Rounding out the ensemble were Green on the sax, Rick Steff on the keys, Brian Hawkins and his blues harp, and Lee Booth with backing vocals. Nikides produced this project and the album was recorded at the venerable America Recording Studio in Memphis, with mixing done by Larry Nix (of Stax fame).

Their set kicks off with “Crammed & Jammed,” and it is obvious that this band has a good head of steam and they know there way around the hard-rocking blues block. Over the rock solid Memphis-supplied bass and drums, Nikedes slide work is vicious and Lemons’ voice is a glorious mixture of raw power and smooth phrasing, sort of like a combination of Big Mama Thornton and Shirley Bassey. I would love to use a Janis Joplin comparison, but that would be too easy!

This is followed up by the first cover, Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman,” and Mandy does a bang-up job on one of her inspiration’s most iconic songs. Steff’s Hammond sets the appropriately spooky and dramatic mood, and the Dr. delivers a dump truck load of killer saxophone alongside Sturgis’ best Sonny Landreth-style playing. After these two high-intensity songs, things are dialed back a bit for “Need Yer Love.” This song is sexy as hell, and under the chanteuse is an offbeat rhythm filled in with accordion that lends a bit of Paris mixed with circus atmosphere.

The originals are all very well written, and the songwriters did not create a template to knock out ten songs that are all the same with only the words moved around. Each of their songs has a unique feel and construction so that things always stay sharp. “Son House Says” has a jazzy fusion feel to it, and the title track has a Southern rock vibe with honky-tonk piano. But the standout track is “This Heart of Mine,” which is a slow blues rock ballad that sounds like something Led Zeppelin would have recorded. Well, it would sound like that if they had a high-energy woman singing, a little background organ, and Robin Trower/Stevie Ray playing the guitar. Other than that, it is just like Led Zep…

But it was hard to pick out a favorite as all of the songs are very good – there is not a dud to be found, and they mix genres with furious abandon. Low Society sounds just as comfortable combining a hoe-down with a trip to a church for “Up in Your Grave,” or pulling out the resonator guitar and bringing in John Shaw on piano for the Memphis Minnie spiritual gem “Let Me Ride.” After almost an hour things draw to a close with “Should’ve Known Better” which brings some righteous Texas blues that is spiced up with a little sax from Dr, Green.

If you are a fan of blues or rock, you will like You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down. Low Society hit the ball out of the park with this one, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here. So, pick up a copy of their album, and make sure you head over to their website to see if they have any gigs coming up. It will be worth your time!

Thank you!

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