Painkillers is a whiskey-soaked, bloodied-lip, kick in the pants of an album. It’s a trip just south of Yazoo City to the crossroads for a midnight jam session with Scratch himself. It’s a sweaty, dizzying, grind in a Tennessee juke joint. In other words, leave the glass and just take the whole damn bottle. It seems Left Lane Cruiser’s Joe Evans and Brenn Beck enjoyed working with Black Diamond Heavies Reverend James Leg so much on 2011s Junkyard Speed Ball that they decided to do an entire collaborative covers album with him. The result is Painkillers, a 10-song collection that includes covers of tracks from blues legends Junior Kimbrough, Hound Dog Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Mr. Crossroads himself, Robert Johnson. And besides the bluesmen covered on this great album, LLC and James Leg also take a shot at classic rock: the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and even Bob Seger are represented.
The album? Well, if you’re a fan of either LLC or Black Diamond Heavies, you won’t be disappointed. They both stay true to form and Joe, Brenn and James play great together. Dirtied up slide guitar noise, big, booming drums, blues harp and some great keyboard work by Leg take this record from just some dudes getting together in the garage, getting drunk on cheap whiskey and jamming on some of their favorite tunes to something much more.
They open the record with Kimbrough’s “Sad Days Lonely Nights,” and I’m sure Junior’s smiling, wherever he may be. Their take on Seger’s “Come To Poppa” goes from Seger’s cheeky come-on to a much younger lady to something that borders on sinister. If you’re unfamiliar with Leg, imagine Tom Waits, David “Buster Poindexter” Johansen, and Louis Armstrong blended together with rot gut whiskey and rusty nails and served over dirty ice. It’s like the bogeyman trying to entice a coed to come home with him.
Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” no longer has it’s psychedelic overtones. They’re now replaced with a straight-up blues dirge, sung as if Tom Waits was underwater. It must be heard to be believed. One of the highlights is the cover of Taj Mahal’s “Chevrolet.” Most are aware of the Foghat cover from their much-overplayed eight-track classic Stone Blue. Here LLC’s Evans takes the lead vocal, and with a funky drum beat from Beck these guys shake the stale right off this old, musty track. John Lee Hooker’s “Red Rooster” gets the treatment too. They keep Hooker’s spirit fully intact while adding their own special blues seasoning to the recipe, giving it one heck of a kick. The album closes with a great cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sway,” from 1971’s Sticky Fingers. With shared vocals between James Leg and Frederick “Joe” Evans IV, it makes for a great end to a funky, bluesy, sweaty ride.
Painkillers is a great tribute to the artists covered on it. It’s also yet another great collaboration from two of today’s most talented purveyors of beat-up, noisy, skronky blues. Take one with a glass of whiskey any time you can.
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November 17 • Honeywell Center