“The Viper” from the album Baby, They Told Told Us We’d Rise Again
Danny Hutchens and Eric Carter, founders of Athens, Ga.’s Bloodkin, have ridden that horse called rock ‘n’ roll as hard as two humans possibly can. They’ve been thrown from its haunches many times only to get up, dust off, and show the fickle nag who’s boss. The group Hutchens and Carter originally formed after relocating to Athens from West Virginia has gone through several lineup changes over the years. But, aside from the duo’s input, an uncanny grasp of rock ‘n’ roll’s emotional ethos — lust, alienation, indulgence, recovery, and redemption — has remained constant in all of Bloodkin’s incarnations.
As Hutchens tells, the band was almost finished for good after the release of 2005’s Last Night Out. Fortunately, their cards were not thrown down for good, only reshuffled.
The current Bloodkin lineup features guitarist Eric Martinez, bassist David Nickel, drummer Aaron Phillips, and no-longer-honorary member, dobro master William Tonks (of Barbara Cue). Baby, They Told Us We’d Rise Again, the band’s new release and first for Colorado indie Sci-Fidelity, doesn’t waste time making small talk. Opening track “Ghost Runner” paints the simple picture of scrappy kids in the image of Bloodkin’s founders slugging it out during a summer of backyard baseball. But the song takes on a heightened effect thanks to the sinister grind of Carter’s wah-wah heavy guitar and Hutchens’ commanding vocals.
“To me, there’s more of a direct connection between the songs on this album and the circumstances surrounding them,” says Hutchens of the phoenix-referencing new album. “I think it’s pretty common knowledge, but the last record we put out was in 2005, and, at the time, I pretty much considered that to be the last Bloodkin record. That’s what the content of that record dealt with. We were pretty much broken up, and, quite honestly, our lives were in disarray. We weren’t in great shape, and the band was pretty much over. Since then, the process, on a personal level, has been about getting our lives back together. After that happened, things started coming back together. In a lot of ways, that’s the subject of a lot of lyrics on the record and the feeling and vibe that surrounds it. It’s kind of like a big victory for us — just surviving and getting things back on the rails.”
Their locomotive’s gears have not rusted in the interim. If anything, they’re churning more confidently than ever. Songs like “The Viper,” which Hutchens says is a composite of “the mess” he and Carter found themselves in a few years back, showcase Hutchens’ sometimes gentlemanly, sometimes chilling vocal delivery. The man’s phrasing — marked by soulful, verbally extended passages usually at the end of a verse — is absolutely immaculate.
Carter, both rightly and wrongly referenced by some as the band’s “Keith Richards,” knows Hutchens’ strengths as well as his own. Their telepathic bond is in full effect here, resulting from 20 years of late-night gigs and the miles inbetween. Carter, himself, makes a memorable stand behind the mic on Baby with the devastating “My Name Is Alice,” a song so wrought with frank honesty and hard-earned advice you might swear Hank Williams himself channeled it from beyond.
Some of the subject matter documented by Bloodkin may be dark, but rarely does it summon depression or self-loathing. Instead, there’s a distinct therapeutic element at play, particularly in the latest work. It’s not all heartache at the core. On freewheeling tunes like “Easter Eggs” and “Little Margarita,” they produce music equivalent to the evening sun finally breaking through a week of storm clouds.
The solid teamwork heard throughout Baby — recorded with longtime Athens studio engineer and producer David Barbe — suggests that this may be the band’s most compatible rhythm section yet. Colorado-based guitarist Martinez, also of Denver acoustic rockers Lake Effect, has accompanied Hutchens onstage and on his second solo release Love Songs for Losers. Nickel, an Athens stalwart, is also the bassist for country/folk rockers Stewart & Winfield. Drummer Phillips, formerly of punk duo Skin Pops, art-garage band Wide Receivers, Redneck GReece, and Jack Logan’s roots rock steamroller Liquor Cabinet, gives the new songs an element of precision timing that holds tight to Nickel’s meaty basslines and Carter’s gleefully nasty riffs. Multi-instrumentalist Tonks, Hutchens says, could sit in and jell with just about anyone without stepping on a single toe.
“When I was making Love Songs for Losers, I brought in the guys that are now part of the current lineup of Bloodkin,” Hutchens recalls. “Things really clicked, and, on top of that, we all got along really well. We did a few shows together, not even calling it Bloodkin. Those worked out, and things kind of snowballed from there. This is the first time that all of these guys have recorded together as Bloodkin, but I certainly hope it’s not the last!”
For curious newbies or copyless fans, the entire ‘Kin catalog recently received a digital rebirth with the group’s work from 1994 to the present available on iTunes. Albums like Out of State Plates, Creeper Weed, and Good Luck Charm have long been hard to come by outside of the lower Southeast. Now they’re available to all with internet access. Good thing, too, because rock ‘n’ roll is not posturing and power trips for these guys. It’s been more an insurance plan that’s covered them through darkness, back into light.
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