Tarbox Ramblers – In a Fix Back East (Rounder, 2004)
What piqued my interest was a story on the band on NPR, linking them to the much lamented Morphine in the Boston scene. They’re a mix of Fat Possum blues, string band hillbilly and gospel, sounding all the world like Bob Dylan’s recent music. “Already Gone” is a blasting roadhouse rocker, coming off as an R.L. Burnside garage-blues tune. “Were You There” mines the bands gospel roots, complete with mourning violin. Michael Tarbox’s vocals are very well suited to these types of tales of ominous woe. “Country Blues” digs deeper into the fertile Mississippi soil that brought forth legends like Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. The lyrics restate the same blues clichés, but like the best blues, the music redeems it – pounding but not plodding drums, and snarling guitar.
The band channels Mark Sandman and Morphine on the title track, with mysterious guitar and fiddle framing a tale of loss and trouble. The music and the stories the band tell are rarely resolved, somewhat like 16 Horsepower, another band that mines Americana and the dark and mysterious corners of roots music. “No Night There” is a fiddle fueled gospel hoedown and “Honey Babe” is kicked off with a snarling blues riff, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a John Lee Hooker record. “The Shining Sun” latches onto another trucking blues groove. The band seems to have two modes of operation, the chugging blues groove and the mysterious gospel plea.
This band is definitely one to keep an eye on; right now they wear their influences on their sleeves, but what influences they are! As soon as the Tarbox Ramblers start to make their own music and not just an excellent reflection of the masters, then they will have accomplished a major achievement.
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