In Detroit Rock City, where the weak are killed and eaten, the Soledad Brothers aren’t taking any prisoners — they are converting them. Recorded at a June 2000 show at the Motor City’s late Gold Dollar, Live is an all-too brief set of seven tracks baptized by the spirit of down-home blues-rock. This record captures, in typical Soledad style, an electric quality like a soul-rocked revival washed clean by Detroit night fever. Wish I was there. Damn. Amen.
So you’re a “rock ‘n’ roll philistine”? Well. Brother Johnny Walker (given name: John Wirick) will make you a believer. Borrowing heavily from the Rolling Stones’ approach to blues-rock, you hear a similar set of influences — standard heroes like Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker — but the Soledad sound infuses traditional licks and slow twanging slide work with the industrial spirit of Detroit. Live, in which the duo ups the intensity as well as song length, is full of all the concrete chutzpah that’s been making the motor city a nucleus of vintage soul rock, and it rips the joint.
“Johnny’s Death Letter” is raw delta swamp blues, with bellowing sax by Oliver Henry (main squeeze of frequent guest percussionist Meg White), and Walker’s slow-sliding blues guitar. “Break ‘Em On Down” tears it up with drummer Ben Swank’s (born Ben Smith) freewheeling rockabilly beat, bad-boy gambling routine and swinging giddy-up rhythm.
The Soledad Brothers are often subject to a common misunderstanding associated with the music they play: What do a trio of white boys know about the blues? Make no mistake: these white boys feel it, and they pump it up with a promise to make it fun. Walker says, “Why go to a bluesman who’s sad all the time? You go to a show to have fun. If you come to our show and don’t have fun, then shame on us.”
Sure, “Teenage Heart Attack” sounds a lot like “Street Fighting Man.” And maybe Johnny Walker’s the long-lost Midwestern blues brother Jon Spencer never knew he had. But this lo-fi fraternity is in tight as one of the most connected bands in their hometown. They’ve been keeping things fresh with collaboration partners Jack White (he helped produce their last two albums), along with similar Motor City outfits the Detroit Cobras, the Dirtbombs and the Von Bondies. Detroit’s a tough gig, but bands that play together, stay together. It all sounds good to me.