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The Listening Room (album reviews)

The Low Numbers Demo, The Low Numbers (Low Numbers, 2003)

With their debut release, The Low Numbers walk the very narrow line between being a rock band that pays homage to the blues and being a pure nostalgia act emulating the blues-rock of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The ground they’re negotiating is so well-trodden by those who’ve gone before (late-period B.B. King, the Rolling Stones, Cream) that it’s impossible to credit the band with their own fully original sound.

Yet The Low Numbers have nonetheless produced a very solid debut release.

Front man Chris Yountz (The Merle) rasps out enough charisma to support the weight of the music. And backed by a down-and-dirty supporting band — Jamie Stirling (The Merle), plus Todd Kelley and Jeremy Boger (both of The Makeout Room) — the album is never less than dead-on with bluesy spirit.

A good example of the band at its best is the song “Painted Face,” which works by virtue of both simple arrangements and effective lyrical images.

“No matter how hard you try,” Yountz sings. “You always end up with that cheap-whore look/ Girl, you don’t know nothin’/ You ain’t read about in glossy magazines and books.”

For the most part, The Low Numbers avoid falling too deep inside the standard blues-rock bar-band cliche of singing new lyrics over old blues licks. This record shows the group wobbling between nostalgia and homage, a stripped-down blues band with substantial potential.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

bombshelta, BB Drum (Fuzzy Butter, 2002)

Imagine your father trying to bust out some underground hip-hop rhymes at a family karaoke outing. Imagine he’s had a few cold ones, and he genuinely wants to impress you with how “fly” he can really be. You really want to like his act — honestly, you do — but you don’t have the heart to tell him it’s just not working.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s what BB Drum‘s album feels like through all 15 tracks.

It’s not that bombshelta’s musically bad, in fact there is something to be said for the live-performance mentality that BB Drum (or LD, as he occasionally — and inexplicably — refers to himself) brings to the recording. With no beat machines, samples or loops to carry the weight of unifying the music, the full pressure falls on BB Drum’s ability as both an MC and songwriter. Too bad.

Perhaps the same lyrics performed by a truly skilled MC could be made to work. Granted, he’d have to surmount such timeless rhymes as “Fresh beats like you’ve never even heard before/ I’m gonna rock it some more/ Man, this jam’s out the door/ No longer can ignore/ What LD got in store/ This beat is prehistoric, just like a brontosaur.” Perhaps, but from BB Drum, however, they’re simply painful.

bombshelta wouldn’t be so bad were BB Drum not so absolutely genuine about his rapping. You can tell he’s put an awful lot of love into this album, and that he very much wants to be part of the local, growing “underground” hip-hop scene he so often alludes to in his songs.

BB Drum’s music works best when he’s not taking it too seriously, as in “Word to the JLA,” a fun, superhero-themed rap about the Justice League of Asheville, which apparently runs around fixing up squats, crashing parties and catching criminals, all while eluding the law themselves.

Another less-cringe-inducing track is “Herb Dr.,” a listenable blues (in fact, the album’s only non-hip-hop track) about “Mamma Ganja.”

But too often, BB Drum is like listening to your Uncle Ralph doing the

rap version of “Feelings” — and you keep praying someone will trip over the mic cord and shut his ass down.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

It’s Clobberin’ Time, Dig Shovel Dig (Onion Music, 2002)

To really get Dig Shovel Dig‘s music in all its noisy, chaotic glory, you have to understand a few things: First, they are a bass-and-drum duo that sings and plays keyboards (and various other instruments) with their feet (and other convenient appendages).

Second, to truly understand why they are a good band, you have to see them live. Watching Dig Shovel Dig try to keep the music you’ll hear on their demo going during a concert performance is like watching someone juggle chainsaws in the back of a moving El Camino during an off-road car chase.

Yet none of that wild live dynamic translates to their record. Instead, it sounds like effects-ridden heavy-noise music with all the subtlety of a professional wrestler’s title-challenge bout.

That said, the album itself isn’t bad. It’s fun to listen to — once — and it has its own seemingly random musical merits (imagine locking Primus and Screeching Weasel in a digital-recording suite for a week). But in the end, It’s Clobberin’ Time just doesn’t pack much of a wallop.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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