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D. Charles Speer & The Helix - After Hours

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Artist: D. Charles Speer & The Helix

Album: After Hours

Label: Black Dirt

Review date: Jul. 3, 2008

As a constellation in the No Neck Blues Band orbit, one might expect D. Charles Speer to veer toward third-eye expanding rock if not the glorious blended clatter and jolt of Amolvacy or Coach Fingers. Instead Speer and The Helix pound dusty, bar piano joints that re-imagine Lee Hazlewood's cowboy psychedelia into a present day “Ghost Riders in the Sky," – a kitsch-free and wallop of genuine, if not flat-out devastating, country-rock songwriting.

It's no secret Speer is the alias of NNCK's David Shuford, who has already debuted this alter-ego on the once mysterious Sound@One imprint with a 45 and the striking solo Some Forgotten Country LP. Both aligned the compass due south: Dixie dives and cowpoke valleys. For After Hours, Shuford uses his deep voice to build songs upon strains of hillbilly gestures, boogie-woogie, swamp funk and years spent spinning Townes Van Zandt and Al Hopkins records.

‘Forgotten country’ is Shuford’s preferred label. But instead of old-time strings and strained vocals, he opts for amped guitars and groovy swaggers, swollen with tales of gunrunners and spooks that inhale cigarette smoke like oxygen. These characters could very well be the dealers, ex-lovers and friends found in the songs of another downtown Hazlewood crooner, Tim Foljahn. Whereas Foljahn's Two Dollar Guitar often teetered against a black void of minimal melodies and aching slide guitar, Speer gallops on, with a half smirk, each song with a sturdy rhythm that invites quick tempo changes and organ/guitar highlights. It’s the sort of non-country that could be spliced into early ’70s films like Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller or Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo and seem wonderfully juxtaposed.

The dozen tracks on After Hours are towering, touching and aggressively bold. The opening "Fossilized" begins with Shuford narrating a fixer coming to town: “This man came down here from H.H.S. to investigate that fucked up mess called in last night.” It’s just the first volley in a series of dramatic touches that turn these tunes into tales. In "Single Again," Shuford’s out checking the bars while his ex-lady is driving around with the new fella sporting a black mustache. "Sit Right There" showcases Shuford’s raga-style bouzouki and releases the psychedelic tension that simmers below all of his songs.

Mr. Speer and his Helix successfully resurrect a dead-end genre on After Hours and, in the process, conjure up one of 2008’s summertime essentials. This should be blasted by Professional Porch Sitters across the midwest and dive bars up and down each coast.

By Eric Weddle

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