I've been watching blues and rock bands since the early 70's--the great ones, the commercial ones, and the forgettable ones. It takes a lot these days to impress my jaded ass and actually write something meaningful about one of them. Lucky for us, the resurgence in roots music has spawned some great talent of late. One of the very best is a band called the Ten Foot Polecats.
The Ten Foot Polecats have impressed the shit out of me ever since we heard this intense sound coming out of a remote street festival in New Hampshire some years ago. Among the folkies and wandering minstrels, we heard this driving beat getting louder and louder. I surmised it must be some well-seasoned band from the Delta region really whippin' it out. This was gonna be good!
Sounds can be deceiving! It was three local Boston guys, but it really felt like you just stepped into some old-timey juke joint way down south! One guy was caterwauling n' blowin’ harp, another beatin' the drums like his life depended on it, and another sitting on a beer cooler playing a beat up semi-hollow-body with five strings! By the end of the set, that five string black beauty had only one string left and it still sounded great!
Through all the psychedelic rock, Chicago blues, arena rock, prog rock, punk, hardcore, and metal music that transgressed through the years, there's been a void lately, and this band was bringing the mojo back. The Ten Foot Polecats are just what the doctor ordered!!
The trio has put out two excellent recordings prior to Undertow. The Ten Foot Polecats have taken their main inspiration from early Mississippi Hill Country blues, known best for its fast and trance-like rhythms. Paying homage to the likes of Robert Lee Burnside, Tommy Johnson, Fred McDowell and T-Model Ford among others, the boys have put their own fresh spin on a tried and true art form.
Undertow shows the full maturing of those influences and produces their first recording with all original tunes. Jay Scheffler, vocalist and harpist, does most of the writing. Diverse and always dynamic, his songs range from the dark and rootsy “Out in the Rain” to the beautiful and rhythmic “Lost At Sea”, and energy blasts like “Prescription” and “Do that Thang”--a real showcase for guitarist Jim Chilson's amazing finger picking. Jim's writing and playing often head into a powerful mix of Mississippi Hill and Eastern flavors adding all the more to the dark trance vibe the band do so well. Jim's “Someday(Your Pain Is Gonna End)” and “Undertow” work that sound to its fullest, with just enough over amplification and distortion any guitar freak would love. Chad Rousseau co-wrote “Undertow”, “Worried Sick”, and “Leave Well Enough Alone”. He fits perfectly with Jim Chilson (guitar) and Jay Scheffler (vocals and harp), always keeping this a guitar-centered band.
Whether it's Jim's astronomical guitar playing, Jay's Howl'n Wolf vocals, or Chad's mathematically precise drumming, these are musicians that take their music and history of it very seriously while never taking themselves too seriously. Jim Chilson's guitar playing cannot be underestimated. He has a natural talent that needs to be seen live to be believed. Of their three recordings, this is their best for showcasing Jim's playing. Undertow also does that remarkable thing only real blues seem to do... be both pained and dark, then be righteous and joyful without missing a beat. No matter what your mood, Undertow seems to have a place that feels just right.
The music scene of late has been tipping back and forth with a few glimmers of brilliance. There's not much middle room anymore like the "old days". I'm glad to see these guys getting an appreciative national audience and I have no doubt there are overseas gigs coming soon also.
From what I've seen and heard, there is no other band with quite the sound the Polecat's have mastered. While the recording Undertow is a golden nugget, the live show is the whole damn gold mine...see what I mean...I'll see you there!