In a genre full of retreaded and overdone covers that imitate the original rather than break new musical ground, I knew when Painkillers dropped out of the recent shipment envelope from Alive Records that there was a chance that this disk full of covers would be both different and great.
For those unfamiliar with Left Lane Cruiser’s music, Left Lane Cruiser is a punk-blues juke joint duo that creates a musical sound track to a crime spree with bare bones instrumentation. While the crimes in the musically inspired crime spree involve only non-violent felonies and a lot of depraved misdemeanors, their carnal punk-infused blues is only complemented when Brenn Beck (drums and percussion) and Fredrick "Joe" Evans IV (guitar and vocals) team up with James Leg (a.k.a. John Wesley Myers - vocalist and Fender Rhodes torturer with the Black Diamond Heavies) and the musical debauchery only intensifies.
Given Left Lane Cruiser’s North Mississippi Hill Country/Deep Blues influences, it was no surprise to see the requisite Junior Kimbrough cover opening up Painkillers. Proving that not even Kimbrough’s material is sacred, Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg whip up their own version of “Sad Days and Lonely Nights.” While the track shares Kimbrough’s own sparse instrumentation, Beck, Evans IV and Leg create a bombastic up-tempo version of the original. With Leg growling out the vocals and offering up a highly distorted Fender Rhodes solo, “Sad Days and Lonely Nights” is a fitting, while almost unrecognizable, tribute to Junior Kimbrough.
Paying tribute to another great groove-orientated slide guitarist, again it was no surprise to find Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg offering a tribute to the late, great Hound Dog Taylor. It was refreshing to hear Evans IV actually relax his signature distorted vocals on this cover song. Normally happy to revel in the distorted “crunch” of running his vocals through a Marshall stack, Evans IV reminds us that although he enjoys the vocal gimmick, he can actually sing.
Accompanied by Harmonica Shah on John Lee Hooker’s “Shake it Baby,” Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg create yet another boogie-inducing tribute to one of their influences. Proving to not just be bombastic punks, but musicians in their own right, Beck, Evans IV and Leg leave plenty of space in the groove for Harmonica Shah to toot, warble and solo throughout the track without interference.
Though all of the cover songs on Painkiller are clever well-chosen renditions playing to the trio’s influences and strengths, my favorite track on Painkillers has to be Left Lane Cruiser & James Leg’s interpretation of Robert Johnson’s “Rambling on My Mind.” With Leg handling the vocal duties, as well as hammering out a completely enjoyable barrelhouse piano line, it is hard not to think that with that vocal growl, James Leg could be the love child of Tom Waits and Cookie Monster.
By infusing blues rock with heavy doses of punk sensibility, separately both the works of James Leg or Left Lane Cruiser are incredibly compelling, but as a Deep Blues supergroup on Painkillers, James Leg and Left Lane Cruiser churn out 10 fitting tributes to their influences. One can only hope this collaborative project sells enough to make sure Painkillers isn’t just a one-off project.