Blanche | Little Amber Bottles (Original Signal)

cd_blanche.jpgThe dabbles in sin, sex and salvation seep through the whole album, giving Little Amber Bottles an even stronger sense of southern gothic creepiness than the one hinted at on the group’s first album.

 

 

 

 

 

Dan John Miller has a problem. He has a beautiful wife, he hangs out with Jack White and he appears in blockbuster movies. Despite all this, he still makes sad, sad music with his band Blanche.

But Blanche’s music is more than just sad. This is the music of desperation, of sinners begging on their knees for death or forgiveness or of men so racked with heartache that they boil over with twisted frustration. This is dark music. This is music with a grimness that’s too overwhelming for metal and a loneliness that’s too direct for blues. These sounds hold feelings and emotions that cut right through other genres and goes straight for the heart of American music. This is pure folk-country music.

Don’t expect hillbilly twang or intellectual wordplay with this record. Expect jarringly articulated loneliness that sounds like the band wrote these songs in a run-down Oklahoma farmhouse during the dust bowl. One listen to the standout track "What This Town Needs" explains it all. Electric guitars, pounding drums and slide guitar and fiddle accents provide the powerful backdrop to Dan and wife Tracee Mae’s back and forth vocals about what their world is lacking. Dan provides a holy outrage while Tracee gives off a sensual counterpart, culminating with the back and forth shouts of "Do you believe?" "I do believe!"

The dabbles in sin, sex and salvation seep through the whole album, giving Little Amber Bottles an even stronger sense of southern gothic creepiness than the one hinted at on the group’s first album. Another difference from the first album is the lack of lightheartedness. While their debut was no country romp, there were hints of fun and humor. Those are gone now, buried underneath heavy sorrow and weirdness.

And the weirdness is what makes this such a standout album. Although they play music steeped in tradition, the Detroit group puts their own spin on it, making the songs alternately modern and old-fashioned and also scary and warm. Ultimately, southern gothic is the best way to describe this music, and that’s what it is to the core. For an example of what Blanche is compared to other music, compare their cover of ‘Child of the Moon,’ to the Rolling Stones’ original. The B-Side to Jumping Jack Flash had an odd sweetness to it, and in Blanche’s hands it retains that sweetness, but becomes the kind of sad country song the Stones wouldn’t produce until the early ’70s.

But eerie country music isn’t exactly what Blanche is known for. In fact, they’re not really known for being Blanche at all. Jack White used the group as Loretta Lynn’s backup band on Van Lear Rose, and he borrowed multi-instrumentalist Jack Lawrence  to play bass for The Raconteurs. You may also recognize Dan and Tracee Mae from their roles as guitarist Luther Perkins and wife in Walk the Line.

So really, Blanche’s music isn’t the music of the minor rock and movie stars that they are. Instead, the band is something different. They’re the Motor City’s twisted and wonderful secret that’s just too dark and weird for Grammy Awards, supergroups and Hollywood. A | Gabe Bullard

RIYL: Lee Hazlewood, Arcade Fire, Loretta Lynn

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