Whiskey Shambles’ cover of blues classic will haunt your dark thoughts

by George Francis

In December, Cincinnati-based “Garage Rock/Basement Blues” quartet, The Whiskey Shambles, released their latest song to the Interwebs…  “Mother Earth.”  Originally written and made famous by Memphis Slim in 1951 as a plinky, slow, twelve-bar blues piano number with a down-tempo feel and solemn lyrics, The Shambles have taken the unusual descending chromatic and replicated it with a slide guitar riff, played on a fuzzed-out and overdriven acoustic(!).  Shambles’ bassist Brother James plays an adaptation of Slim’s left hand on his five-string bass — also slightly overdriven and gritty — which adds a deep tone to the entire piece, and helps underscore Aaron Tyree’s steadily growing and increasingly manic drum part.  The result adds a heavy and somewhat psychedelic rock feel to a song that always had weighty lyrics, but only mildly dark instrumentation in its original and most-well known recordings.

Staying true to the haunting harmonies, the group gives particular focus to the background vocals, including several layers of their female vocalist, LaTanya Foster — a classically trained opera performer — and a strong baritone foundation from their frontman, Nathan Singer.  Singer’s soulful rendition of the lead is both a somber and biting reminder of our mortality.  Between the heavier instrument arrangement and the dark supporting vocals that stay true to the original, yet enhance the impact of the part, the piece breathes new life into one of Slim’s best-known songs.

Though the version currently on the web is listed as a “pre-master” track, I’m told the final iteration will be released soon.  “Mother Earth,” along with other blues classics from Blind Willie Johnson and The Louvin Brothers, and six original songs will appear on their upcoming CD, “Loose Change for a Broken Man,” intended to be released in February 2014.

Visit their website <http://whiskeyshambles.com> to listen to Mother Earth and several other songs from the new album, and find out more about this exciting new group.  If you like what you hear, they’re up for a Cincinnati Entertainment Award in the Blues category, so be sure to give them a vote, and definitely check out one of their live shows soon — which I hear are something to behold.