It’s awfully easy for blues bands to slip into a rut. The twelve-bar form is finite, and there are so many utterly definitive songs out there that it’s hard to find new things to say within the blue spectrum.
Daddy Long Legs, a four-piece band from Waterloo, Ontario, clearly love the blues, but refuse to be confined by the format. Calling their music ‘garage blues,’ they cheerfully mix jumps, shuffles, and boogies with touches of surf and grunge. It’s a rough, raucous blend, bristling with an edgy energy that’s held in check by intelligent songwriting and well-crafted arrangements.
Bassist Steve Toms and drummer Jeff Wagner manage to combine heavy crunch with supple fluidity, providing a solid foundation for guitarist Mike Elliot and harmonicist Junior Mallick’s inventive solos. Opening with the thunderous and menacing “Almost Crazy,” they exhibit some serious collective chops on a well-produced, all-original collection of featuring lots of variety. There’s the catchy reverse-shuffle of “Never Home,” swampy, reverb-rich rock on “Better Men,” and wistful, moody melancholy on “What You Need” – and that’s just the first four of the disc’s fourteen tracks!
None of the tunes are entirely typical twelve-bar blues, although that sturdiest of foundations is at the heart of every song. It’s not that the basic building blocks are unrecognizable – it’s just that the band’s unique twists add a little extra depth to typical grinders, shuffles, and soulful ballads, so there’s never that ‘same-old-same-old’ feeling that you’ve heard it all before.
Elliot is an excellent guitarist and handles the vocals with assurance, though in truth the material doesn’t call for a great deal of vocal subtlety. He’s gravelly and tough as called for, and musical foil Mallick proves an exceptional harmonica player, capable of dazzling dexterity (think Blues Traveler), but given to restrained, atmospheric acoustic support alternating with crunchy, thick blasts of distorted amplification. Yet while the two are both monsters instrumentally, the strength of the project lies in thoughtful songcraft and ensemble playing that puts the compositions themselves ahead of technical prowess. They’ve worked this material through thoroughly, every note carefully considered and properly in its place, yet the passionate intensity of their delivery keeps it all genuinely exciting.
Purists cringe at attempts to update the blues, while others insist it’s all been done to death. Daddy Long Legs prove there’s a musically satisfying middle ground, where the sheer emotional punch and menacing edge of the blues meets the energetic exuberance of rock ‘n’ roll, with anything else that works musically cheerfully incorporated. Yet they do so without compromise – they remain, first and foremost, a damn fine blues band, with chops to spare. They’re just a bit more adventurous and open-minded than most.
Most people understandably tend to avoid Liars, Cheaters + Scoundrels. This particular bunch, however, is well worth spending time with!