SECOND INSTALMENT OF JUNO AWARD-NOMINATED PROJECT DEALS 1950s BLUES BOPS, HELLFIRE GOSPELS AND SEXED-UP CUTS.
LISTEN TO LEAD TRACK, HOWLIN’ WOLF’S “WHO’S BEEN TALKIN'” NOW.
Itches, urges, dirges and scourges: welcome back to The Northern South. Whitehorse makes their return to the early days of electric blues with the second instalment of a project that melds original grooves and melodies with the duo’s steamy, swampy, squalling approach. There’s foreplay, foreboding, fever and Fenders — plenty of them — with cuts from Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo and more.
“Blues gave rock ‘n’ roll its nerve. It breaks, bends and distorts rules,” offers Melissa McClelland, one half of the duo. “This sense of abandon, emotional and musical urgency trickled into all forms of modern day music. There would be no Cardi B without Lucille Bogan. There would be no Tom Waits without Howlin’ Wolf and there would be no Stones without any of it.”
On opener “Who’s Been Talkin’” (1957), Luke Doucet serves up a hearty White Falcon slice of love and respect for Howlin’ Wolf and his right-hand man, guitar hero Hubert Sumlin, while melodica and Wurlitzer wind around the deft dance of the lyrics. “The nuance of simultaneously accepting responsibility and accusing a lover of doing him wrong was very subtle,” says Doucet. “It’s a rabbit hole of contrition.”
From there, Whitehorse gets loose and languid with a Jimmy Reed via J.J. Cale take on “Baby What You Want Me To Do” (1959). With a few Gretsch squelches for good measure, Whitehorse’s tribute to Reed’s laid-back minimalism and melody mastery moves along no faster than a Sunday morning.
An exercise in subtlety it is not: Whitehorse’s version of Slim Harpo’s “Baby, Scratch My Back” (1965) is a lap dance, an unapologetically erotic, red-hot take. With McClelland on lead vocals upending the original dynamic, Whitehorse’s version is one of female desire and pleasure. Less girls gone wild, more sexual intellectual.
Next up is “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” (1954), a Willie Dixon original given a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion-inspired treatment—McClelland’s idea. “It would be impossible to top Etta James’ steaming vocal, so I suggested we turn ourselves into a garage rock band, a little scrappier, punchier and live off the floor.”
From a turbulent, direful crackling rapture to a haunting, minor key requiem, The Northern South Vol. 2 goes further back in time with two traditional gospel blues selections, “John The Revelator” and “St. James Infirmary.” The latter features one of the EP’s highlights: a righteous noisescape outro from McClelland, played on Doucet’s Les Paul. “John the Revelator was an interesting song to delve into,” says McClelland. “We liked the intensity of the end of times bible story but we wanted it to tell a more current, relevant tale. With some new words, we touch on the end of days issues that feel pressing to us: global warming, the Trump presidency, consumerism, and religion itself.”
Both snapshot and slingshot,The Northern South Vol. 2 cycles back and careens forward, taking a twelve-bar trip through the chart-toppers of the era. “These aren’t deep cuts, they are the Top 40, the pop hits of the blues world, what was happening at the time,” explains Doucet of the song selection process. “These songs spoke to the basics. They communicated simple truths and realities in ways that transcended boundaries.”
The Northern South Vol. 2 will be released January 18, 2019.
1. Who’s Been Talkin’ (Howlin’ Wolf)
2. Baby, What You Want Me to Do (Jimmy Reed)
3. John the Revelator (Traditional)
4. Baby, Scratch My Back (Slim Harpo)
5. I Just Wanna Make Love to You (Willie Dixon)
6. St. James Infirmary (Traditional)
Listen to the first single Who’s Been Talkin’ on Spotify below or click here to listen on your preferred streaming service.