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Promised Land or Bust

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Album Review

Promised Land or Bust is Moreland & Arbuckle's Alligator Records debut. The Kansas bluesmen re-enlisted producer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, the Sword) — who also helmed their brilliant 7 Cities in 2013. The Kansas bluesmen claim Alligator was a natural fit, since their first signing was Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers, an enormous influence on their sound. Guitarist Aaron Moreland, vocalist and harmonicist Dustin Arbuckle, and drummer Kendall Newby are supported on about half these tracks by guests: bassist Mark Foley and keyboardist Scott Williams adding depth to the band's considerable firepower. Here, roots inspirations of Mississippi Delta and Hill Country blues are re-examined and reaffirmed and balanced with electric roadhouse boogie and hard, heartland rock. What sets M&A apart from virtually every modern blues act is that their energy, rawness, and virtuosic instrumental skill are matched by excellent songwriting. The tunes on Promised Land or Bust highlight and exacerbate the poles of tension between spiritual quandaries and sensual pleasures. Opener "Take Me with You When You Go," is a swampy, howling prayer for cosmic deliverance from earthly struggle. The emotional depth in Arbuckle's vocal is underscored by his haunted harmonica solo and Moreland's supercharged guitar break. (It nods at George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"). The squalling slide roar in "Mean & Evil" fuels a lyric notion that some people are so black-hearted that they're even unworthy of hell. The grungy, gritty, allegorical murder ballad "Hannah" — written by Mike Hosty — finds the protagonist in a terminal state of regret after killing his lover. He claims madness — à la Satan whispering in his head — but reveals the real truth: the real demon was his rage, fueled by jealousy and feelings of inadequacy. Angels and spirits of disconnection and loneliness haunt the bluesy country-rock in "Mount Comfort." On the Delta-inspired gallop of "Long Did I Hide It" (one of two songs by Ryan Taylor), Arbuckle soulfully imparts the psychological and supernatural consequences of living with secrets. But the carnal beast rises up to claim its own in the swaggering heat on "When the Lights Are Low," a riotous cover of Slim Harpo's "I'm a King Bee," and Lee McBee's smoking boogie, "Woman Down in Arkansas." (McBee, a fellow Kansan, was a legendary blues harmonica player who passed in 2014.) "Long Way Home" is a snarling tale of betrayal (by a bedeviled red-headed woman). It turns back on the speaking subject though, revealing willing complicity in his circumstances, just as scorching slide guitars and taut snares rip through the middle. The beauty on Promised Land or Bust is that M&A approach the spiritual and carnal as forever inseparable. Here they are bound together in a rowdy, soulful, infectious whirllwind of modern blues; it's all killer, no filler.

Customer Reviews

Great

Saw these guys recently at the Chicago Blues Fest. Great show.

Biography

Formed: 2001 in Wichita, KS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Guitarist Aaron Moreland and harpist/vocalist Dustin Arbuckle have fashioned an old/new 21st century roots sound by merging several American musical strains, from blues, folk, and country to rock and soul, and when at their best, they do it all with a raw and energetic passion. Moreland and Arbuckle met at an open-mike session at a club in Wichita, Kansas in 2001, and since both were exploring country blues, they began playing together, starting a quartet called the Kingsnakes. Personnel came and...
Full Bio
Promised Land or Bust, Moreland & Arbuckle
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