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P.W. Long - Remembered

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Artist: P.W. Long

Album: Remembered

Label: Touch and Go

Review date: Oct. 7, 2003

The underground’s “rediscovery” of the blues has to feel both like a validation and a curse to bands who’ve been drawing from the music for years. Does Jon Spencer secretly despise the White Stripes? Does he feel too old? Could it be, finally, his time in the sun? It’s hard to say, but the return to American roots music was as unexpected in its success as it was inevitable in its source. How long can you recycle Soundgarden riffs or jingly-jangly indie rock before you entirely exhaust your influences? Bands have taken to the blues in part to avoid the diminishing returns of other music but also because it’s the root to so many kinds of music that it allows for cross-fertilizing and bastardization.

P.W. Long’s band Mule understood this, preferring a ragged, often chaotic and aggressive take on the blues. Since the band’s split, Long has released the occasional album, along with a fair amount of music criticism. A multi-tasking, wandering spirit, Long has spent time in several cities across the nation, without settling down or even fully committing himself to a music career. Which is, in a post-millennial sort of way, exactly the right kind of life for a blues musician. Long’s take on the music is classic blues rock, reminiscent of everyone from the Who to Bob Seger. Long’s voice is gravelly and self-aware, evoking tales of lost love and hopelessness with just the right amount of emotional distance.

And while there are few surprises in terms of the arrangements, the music is first-rate, thanks to an able back-up band, expertly bashing out songs like it’s the first time they’ve played them. Long’s greatest talent is in his writing, which is full of nuance and moments of deft storytelling that lift the tales contained within the songs far beyond blues cliché. This isn’t hip stuff, by any means; it sounds like it could have come out in 1990. But this is much to its credit, as it points to a certain sense of durability that pervades the album. Why bother trying to sound “current” when the best blues songs are still about drinking and heartless women? “She’s Gone” and “Wreck” don’t stray far from these ideas, because they don’t need to. Both songs are rough, bitter slabs of heartbreak that communicate as only the blues can.

Classicism has its own drawbacks, however, and Remembered doesn’t always avoid them. Yes, we understand that if you do your woman wrong, she’s going to leave without notice, and that no amount of alcohol will bring her back. Mostly, though, Long cannily and subtly reinterprets the classic elements of the blues and makes them his own, stepping into the music’s shoes and taking them for a walk around the block. There are also moments when Long and his band turn up the guitars and simply let the fuzz fly, and it’s then that Long doesn’t put a foot wrong, satisfying our most consistent and primal rock urges.

By Jason Dungan

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