The Immortal Lee County Killers II: Love Is A Charm Of Powerful Trouble

This is an older review of mine, presented here for archival purposes. The writing is undoubtedly different to the present, and the review style may differ between publications. Enjoy, if that’s the right word. 

Lee County, Alabama, USA. Home to a smooth-talking drummer who looks like he’s taking a brief break from carjacking and a lanky, snap-kicking guitarist who plays a horned axe that looks like it’s got the body of a redback spider. Put ‘em together and you’ve got The Immortal Lee County Killers II. Love Is A Charm Of Powerful Trouble is the band’s second album (discounting an odds-and-sods collection), and it’s also home to the second iteration of the band, too: original drummer Doug “the Boss” Sherrard upped-sticks after the band’s debut disc. The gap – a big one, given the two-man setup of ILCK – was filled by guitarist Chetley “El Cheetah” Yz’s former bandmate J.R.R. Token… and what they’ve created is telepathic blues of the best type: fucked-up and angry.

Oh, and drunk.

This is not to suggest, of course, that the ILCK2 are anything but upstanding citizens of the finest stripe. But there’s a malt liquor sound to this outing: from mysterious vocal lines that should come with a reference card to woozy slide that fairly drips off the guitar, intemperance and firewater are dripping off this project. And it sounds good: ‘sterile’ is not a word that applies to this recording.

Despite the duo’s raggedy-arsed approach to the subject matter, there’s never anything but reverence for the blues heard here. Over half of the songs on Love Is A Charm Of Powerful Trouble are covers. This is unsurprising, given the band’s dedication – admittedly filtered through a grimy washcloth of punk ethic – to keepin’ it real. There’s pure Delta swamp goodness here. A spattering of cover work – including grit-blues luminaries Willie Dixon and R.L. Burnside – sits alongside dirt thick originals like ‘Shitcanned Again’ and ‘Truth Through Sound’. The constant foot tapping that marks countless backwoods recordings is still present – though you may have to struggle through El Cheetah’s twin-amp onslaught – one for treble, one for bass – to hear it. But it’s there, pulsing like the heartbeat of the genre, transformed by two skinny blokes with plenty of oomph.

The performances on the disc are uniformly strong, with a nihilistic grimace permanently affixed. “BULLSHIT’S KILLIN’ ME BY DEGREES!” wails El Cheetah before opener ‘Robert Johnson’ comes to its dropped-drink end. There’s amp-crackling tension in the air, broken only by occasional samples – Howlin’ Wolf talking about the blues being evil, and a receding train, blowing into the distance – or by occasional acoustic excursions, such as ‘What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?’, a regretful lament. Also quiet – but deadly – is ‘Weak Brain, Narrow Mind’, which sounds positively possessed.

‘Goin’ Down South’ is one of the band’s strongest songs encapsulating everything that this band does well. Drunken geekboy vocals contend with a hypnotic slide and a dreamy feel. It’s 3am juju, gunning straight for you, all cymbal shimmers and slide burr. But of all the tunes on disc, it’s the duo’s reinvention of the classic ‘Don’t Nothing Hurt Me Like My Back And Side’ that really goes for the jugular. You can hear speaker cones rupturing as slide licks buzzsaw through the air. Tasty, overdriven harmonica solos communicate pain only hinted at in the wailed vocals. Token’s octopus-armed predilection for playing the whole of the drumkit – rimshots ahoy! – underscores the whole affair, which sounds like it’s cranked-up and spoiling for a fight or a fuck. It’s white-hot, and the best reason for picking up this collection of bruised songs.

The only quibble with this album is the production. Don’t expect high fidelity – this rough-and-ready slab sounds like it was recorded using a highly sophisticated combination of the cheapest kids’ tape-recorders available. USE HEADPHONES! exhort the liner notes. And they’re not wrong – if blown-speakers, destroyed microphones and inaudible or incomprehensible lyrics are likely to annoy you, then this is not the album for you.

But that’s part of its appeal. If you believe in the touched-by-the-devil nature of the blues, in the brimstone boogie power of the shaman player, then you’ll get into this album. If you don’t, you won’t – it’s that simple.

While The Immortal Lee County Killers II don’t come across on disc as well as they do live, their second album is still a bracing take on the blues that’s a rawer experience than much of the soulless wank that’s foisted upon the public in the name of the blues today. No latter-day Eric Clapton turgidity for these two. 11 songs. 35 minutes. No filler. No bullshit. With none of the Jon Spencer/Jack White posing that graces other supposedly rootsy recordings, this is an album that’s got the sound of the crossroads all over it. At a recent show, El Cheetah said that he’d sold his soul, but hadn’t scored much in the way of financial remuneration for it. I beg to differ: if Love Is A Charm Of Powerful Trouble is what he got out of the reaving, Satan’s way out of pocket.

First published on FL in March 2004.

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