Ex-Porch Ghoul returns to the roots-punk dark side, comes out pretty good. 

The Ruckus' singer-songwriter Mick Walker, aka Eldorado Del Rey, recorded Planet of the Vampires II backed by punk-blues darlings the Immortal Lee County Killers in 2004, shortly after his previous, similar-sounding band the Porch Ghouls returned from an unlikely tour with Aerosmith and Kiss and promptly imploded. The Ghouls' Bluff City Ruckus was the first release for Roman Records, a Columbia imprint helmed by Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, who, according to lore, unsuccessfully lobbied to hook the Porch Ghouls up with a hit-making songwriter and who is offered eternal thanks in the liner notes for the self-released Vampires. I only offer the back story because it's hard to listen to the chief Ghoul sing "Blood on Satan's Claw" and not wonder if somebody isn't wearing their disillusionment on their sleeve: "When you're doing fine, he's your biggest fan.../He writes your songs, plots your moves, and stands you tall/Pulls the rug out, steps away, and lets you fall." Yeah, El Del, it sucks, but the devil offered you a helluva break, didn't he?

Vampires' tunes, with few exceptions, are of the roots-punk variety, with a moldering monster-mash ethos like a gothier take on the Compulsive Gamblers' Bluff City. Most of the songs are solid, many are excellent, but none will make you surrender your Cramps collection. Even the best are just a shade too close in spirit or form to other, more distinctive recordings. When Eldorado yelps bluesy snatches of spook stories like "All [my will] is gonna say, bury me in the month of May," it might make you reflexively reach for the Oblivians' definitive Plays 9 Songs. "House by the Cemetery," a sturdy ode to obsessive yearnings, seems to carry the subliminal message: "Play X's 'Burning House of Love' and 'In This House That I Call Home' back to back."

Eldorado's blues pop is a little too light (of style, not subject matter) to let the Lee County Killers really do their thing, and the Killers are a little too dangerous for Vampires' more whimsical moments. It's a record that flirts with greatness but gets slapped and has to go home with greatness' slightly less attractive sister, pretty goodness. -- Chris Davis

Grade: B

Eldorado and the Ruckus play the Buccaneer Friday, December 2nd.

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