Swimming In Turpentine

Yellow Dog Records

By Brian D. Holland
November 2009

Swimming In Turpentine, the debut release from Portland, Oregon's Woodbrain, is earthy and bluesy yet defiantly intense and diverse. It's coerced along by distorted guitars, a driving rhythm section, and a harmonica presence with a persona of its own. From Chicago electricity to acoustic blues and bluegrass, their music can be equated to a rollercoaster that slowly makes its way to the summit and boldly plunges forward into sundry territory, twisting and whipping around bends, out of control yet never losing track. It's easy to imagine these guys at many of the various summer music festivals because of their uniqueness, daring musicianship, and ability to blend in just about anywhere.

Woodbrain is made up of Joe McMurrian on guitar, banjo, and lead vocals; David Lipkind on harmonica and background vocals; Jason Honl on bass; and Jimi Bott on drums (originally of The Fabulous Thunderbirds). Songwriter Joe McMurrian says, “Our base is the pre-1940 rural music of the Mississippi Delta and the Appalachian Mountains. It's a sound influenced by Robert Pete Williams, Skip James, Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, and R. L. Burnside, as well as Dock Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb. But we're not ignorant of what happened since, like Cream, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and modern jazz. We roll all of that into our chemistry as a band.”

The album's opener, “Port Chicago Highway,” begins with an interesting upward slide to the desired note before a warmly distorted guitar takes it into a potent blues region. Possessing a Canned Heat resonance, maybe even some Blues Traveler, the song is typical of the potency heard throughout. “Northbound” follows with more of the same. Both McMurrian originals display basically what they are: a band that approaches the blues from both a new and old perspective in a powerfully original way. Sitting alongside the originals is an interesting cover of Bukka White's “Shake Em On Down” and an incredible rendition of Bert Jansch's “Black Water Side”, where the British folk song is transformed into an acoustic blues number.

People often say that you can't do much more with the blues that hasn't already been done. Woodbrain proves otherwise with Swimming In Turpentine. Not all of it is traditional, but there's tradition in all of it. The band injects tasteful influences and styles throughout their music and comes out with a sound that's diverse and different.


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