- by Laurence Schiffman Rating:8 Release Date:2016-11-11 Label: Moshi Moshi
Doing a lot with a little
At the risk of being labeled politically incorrect or worse, and in a gross oversimplification, this talented three member moderately mercurial (in the most positive sense of the word) group plays what I call “white man's blues” (hence to be abbreviated WMB), along with creating pop anthems, and dabbling in acoustic folk sounds. Listening to “Bamboo Diner in the Rain” offers an aural extravaganza of styles as one moves from song to song. Now, it just so happens that this is some of my favorite sort of music.
Since I qualify as “white”, and as a “man” I should explain what I mean by WMB. I hear it as a separate genre from Traditional Blues. In my audacious gross oversimplification, WMB seeks to pack in a lot of notes, while traditional Blues relies on the spaces between them. In my naiveté and isolation I thought that the Blues began and ended with Eric Clapton. It took me years to realize otherwise, and to appreciate what Slow Hand was trying to emulate. Practitioners of the Traditional Blues often speak of nearly unbearable pain, while the Wave Pictures bemoan the closing of their Pool Hall in their eponymous song; and want a “hotel room with class, square ice cubes in my glass” in “H.D. Rider”. They substitute metaphor in place of simplicity (listen to “Hot Little Hand”).
“Panama Hat” opens the album with a sort of Surf Rock meets Blues Guitar tribute; and includes the lyrics “You made friends with my black and white cat, I never saw him take to anyone new like that...we don't need a lot of dramatists to feel alive”. Puzzling but interesting.
Second up is “Now I Want to Hoover My Brain Clean” with its chuggling (Please think steam locomotive and not urban dictionary) Creedence Clearwater “I heard it on the Grapevine” riff and something approaching Jack White's vocal style. Ok, with this sort of established direction one might expect the rest of the album to follow. The next song, “Hot Little Hand” is an acoustic “Hot Tuna” instrumental rag complete with mandolin. The effect is a bit jarring but very pleasant.
The remainder of the album follows this pattern of successfully mixing together what at first might seem like disparate influences (my god there's even a vaguely “Lou Reedy” melody in the song “Bamboo Diner in the Rain”) Nick Lowe describes The Wave Pictures as a “bluesy, boozy, love letter to the guitar, filled with American Primitive instrumentals, John Lee Hooker ...” They've been described elsewhere as writing “charming and witty pop songs”. I don't hear much of the latter on “Bamboo Diner in The Rain” but I sure want to look into their earlier work (dating back to 1998) to appreciate what else they are capable of. Meanwhile, I find myself returning often to “Bamboo Driver in the Rain”.