Though rarely celebrated today by a city whose musical nostalgia is more focused on the mid-century blues and rockabilly that made Memphis famous, jug bands and small jazz "orchestras" were the prime music on Beale Street during the city's first great music explosion, and that's the legacy The Bluff City Backsliders pay homage to.
With their irreverent but loving take on tradition, the Backsliders -- an eight-man lineup consisting of Jason Freeman (lead vocals and guitar), Mark Lemhouse (guitar and vocals), Michael Graber (mandolin and kazoo), Clint Wagner (banjo and fiddle), Adam Woodard (piano), Mike Powers (trombone), Steve Barnat (drums), and John C. Stubblefield (upright bass) -- have emerged as one of the most enjoyable acts on the local club scene over the last year or so, their intoxicating, accessible sound spiked by Woodard's barrelhouse piano and Freeman's sly, gritty vocals. The band will celebrate the release of its eponymous debut disc on Saturday, June 1st, at Young Avenue Deli. The 12-song album, recorded locally at Sounds Unreel and mastered at Ardent, showcases the traditional and vintage songs the band plays live, recreating the jaunty and durable sound that echoes country blues, jug bands, early jazz, and bluegrass while covering the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell, and the Memphis Jug Band.
-- Chris Herrington
The bar was rowdy, and while people seemed to be enjoying the band, nobody was paying too much attention. And then the opening chords of the final song were struck and everyone turned in total silence toward the stage, their jaws dragging along the beer-slick floor. Very few performers can silence a bar thusly, but The Villains' husky-voiced front-chick can do it on command. When Lori Gienapp sings Bonnie Tyler's power ballad "Total Eclipse of the Heart," it is impossible to offer her anything but your full attention. The same is true when she croons "Baby," Os Mutantes' irresistible ode to amore. The Villains, a pedigreed group boasting a Grifter, a Porch Ghoul, a Neckbone, and the Simple One, can crank out a fine original tune in the indie tradition, but that's not really what they are about. They are a cover band who stake their legitimacy on the fact that none of their imitative ilk can begin to match these cats in terms of diversity and taste, let alone the ability to convert cheese into gold without so much as a trace of irony. A little Everly Brothers, anyone? Some Smiths? How about a cut from Physical Graffiti or perhaps a soul-shaking version of "When I Was Young"? The Villains play all your favorite hits that the real villains (read: programmers for oldies radio) have somehow forgotten about. Tune in when they play the Hi-Tone on Thursday, May 30th, with newbies The Maroons.
-- Chris Davis