Some things are just better when they’re covered in three inches of dirt. Take my 1986 Volkswagen Jetta, for instance. It’s not old enough to be considered a classic, but not modern enough to look out of place covered in dirt. Certain hallways of the blues hold true to this rule, and anything that remotely evokes the Mississippi Delta is always better when propped up on cinder blocks and heavily dented. The Immortal Lee County Killers understood that rule on their first two releases, the dirt-embracing The Essential Fucked Up Blues (2001) and Love Is a Charm of Powerful Trouble (2003). But with These Bones Will Rise to Love You Again, they’ve started to clean up their act.
The Immortal Lee County Killers’ third album marks a new home — Estrus released the first two — and it coincidentally also marks the band’s third lineup. Change is obviously in the air, which makes These Bones‘ cover of Pussy Galore’s “Revolution Summer” quite fitting. This time, the band opens the original formula of drum and guitar to make room for the occasional keyboard, creating a whole new sound that’s far from the formerly emulated stripped-down Delta blues style.
Ex-Quadrajet member Chet Weise is still at the helm and keeping steady at the vocals and guitar, but the sound is far different from what the band was known for: trashy, filthy blues music. On previous releases, the vocals were so distorted they became inaudible and the guitar was so thick with feedback that chord progressions were far from smooth. Now the sound is smoother than the hood of an Audi TT, but the band has tossed some dirt on the hood in an effort to stay credible.
Opener “Turn on the Panther” sounds like an attempt at Oasis-style arena rock, with its growing feedback guitar and building vocals: “We stared into the sun.” “Boom Boom” falls flat as soon as the organs come in and give it a sound more akin to ’60s psychedelia than the band’s self-proclaimed punk blues.
But These Bones finds its true moments in the simple blues-guitar setup of “Stitched in Sin” and the old chain-gang rendition of a gospel spiritual in “No More My Lord.” The Immortal Lee County Killers are making new attempts with These Bones and their new lineup, but they should’ve stuck to their earlier mission of remaking roots music for the punk world. If the engine is running fine and there’s nobody to impress, then there’s no need to get out the hose and clean things up.