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Feelin’ no pain

Left Lane Cruiser and James Leg tackle blues classics on Painkillers

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-06-25


According to Brenn Beck, drummer for Fort Wayne’s punk blues duo Left Lane Cruiser, one of the keys to creating a great record is not to prepare too much. Have an idea of what you’re doing, of where you want to go, and then just trust the musical communication of your band mates. “We always find you get a ‘magical moment’ that way,” Beck says.

That’s basically what Left Lane Cruiser did for Painkillers, a cover album that finds Beck and guitarist/vocalist Joe Evans collaborating with long-time friend and tour mate James Leg — aka John Wesley Myers — keyboardist and singer for Black Diamond Heavies.

Painkillers is a ten-track journey through the blues and the blooze that features the collaborators taking on some obscure and not-so-obscure gems. It kicks off with Junior Kimbrough’s “Sad Days, Lonely Nights” and finishes with takes on Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” (itself a sort of cover) and The Rolling Stones’ “Sway.” In between the band tackles classics like “Red Rooster”; Taj Mahal’s “Chevrolet”; and re-works Koko Taylor’s “Come to Momma” as “Come To Poppa.”

There’s a second-set-on-a-Saturday-night vibe to Painkillers — the objective is to make you move, so the songs hit their groove hard, make their point, and then get out; the instrumental breaks and solos are short, sharp, and sweet.

LLC and Black Diamond Heavies share a label — Alive Natural Sound Records — and Beck and Evans were fans of Black Diamond Heavies before the latter band asked LLC to tour with them a few years ago. The two bands have been out on the road together several times since. “Over the years, John’s been like a brother to us,” Beck says. “He sat in on a couple of tunes on our last album (Junkyard Speedball) and it was like he was a member of the band. It just flowed really easily and naturally.”

Leg and Left Lane Cruiser approached Patrick Boissel, head of Alive Natural Sound Records, about doing a covers album together. Boissel liked the idea, envisioning the project being similar to the compilations Chess Records used to put out once upon a time, where they got a couple of their artists together in a studio just to see if magic might happen.

And true to Beck’s description above, very little preparation went into the album. Leg, Beck, and Evans met up in Fort Wayne for a day, picked some songs, ran through them, and the headed up to Ghetto Recorders in Detroit to record with Jim Diamond.

It took a handful of days for the album to come together, and Boissel rejected a few of the songs — like their take on ACDC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie,” one of Beck’s favorites — in favor of more blues. “Most of (the tracks) are takes,” Beck says. “We did very little overdubbing — maybe a guitar solo here and there.”

The trio is joined by producer Jim Diamond on bass and Harmonica Shah on… err, harmonica. Adding a few other people into the line-up made for a refreshing change. “It was nice doing the full band kind of thing, venturing out a little bit and seeing what other kind of sound we could find,” Beck says, though he adds, laughing, that it wasn’t without its minor tensions. “Working with John… he’s an awesome guy and we love him, but… he’s your typical front man. You get two lead guys in a room, and you’re going to have a little friction.”

Though Painkillers may have been arranged and recorded “off the cuff,” the album is remarkably cohesive, and dips into a lot of different blues styles. “We tried to pick songs that would span entire eras, get a little flavor of everything,” Beck says. “There were some tunes Joe and I weren’t familiar with, and some John didn’t know, like Taj Mahal’s ‘Chevrolet.’ But being unfamiliar with some of the songs sort of worked in our favor, I think. It left it a lot more open for us to do our own interpretation.”

Beck says they’ll “probably” do a tour with Leg sometime in the future; a show was booked with Leg at a blues festival this summer, but Leg was unable to do it because of health problems. But if the trio doesn’t end up going on the road behind Painkillers, Brenn doesn’t seem to mind. “It’s kinda hard to tour with an all cover thing,” he says. “Left Lane Cruiser does some covers mixed in with our original stuff, but playing just covers is different. Painkillers was more of just a fun album for us, something we’ve always wanted to do.”

Painkillers is out June 26 on Alive Natural Sound Records (alivenergy.com)

Left Lane Cruiser play The Brass Rail on Thursday, July 5.

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