There are two wildly different takes on roots music here—one maybe a little too reverent, the other maybe not reverent enough. Guess which one is more enjoyable?
The Mulligan Brothers—a Mobile/Baton Rouge group who aren’t brothers and whose name refers to a golf mulligan, i.e. a second chance—put their strongest track upfront. “Wait for Me” opens as somber a cappella, but after 90 seconds a full and heavy band kicks in, giving an urgent kick to the singer’s plea for his lover and friends to see him through a hard time. The rest of the disc is equally well-crafted, but producer Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos) keeps it on the tasteful acoustic side when a little more edge would put it across. Lead singer/writer Ross Newell’s voice and phrasing can sound remarkably like both Paul Simon and Dave Matthews, and the sound accordingly fits the cushy parameters of adult-contemporary radio: using a fiddle on every track without ever sounding Cajun. So despite some clever lyrics from Newell—especially on “Bad Idea,” whose lyrics are a catalogue of same—it’s too close to easy-listening Americana.
The eyebrow-raiser about Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band’s latest is that it’s on the revived version of Yazoo, the revered blues-archive label. Nothing archivist about this music though, as the Rev wails on slide guitar and the rest of his band—not too damn big, just a drummer and washboard player—sprints to keep up. The stripped-down sound is rowdy and rock-informed, bringing memories of Black Oak Arkansas (Payton’s growling voice isn’t far from Jim Dandy’s) and the late, lamented House of Freaks. They approach lonesome Delta blues on “You’re Not Rich”—one of a few songs here suggesting that money doesn’t mean a lot if there’s no love in your corner—but otherwise keep the tempo jacked up.
Diehard Yazoo collectors may be put off by a few moments here that verge on campiness. It’s not often you hear a song called “Raise a Little Hell” with a kids chorus on it. But the Rev’s message is actually a semi-serious one, about the virtues of living a modest family life. Thus he writes a song, “Front Porch Trained,” which argues that you can become an authentic bluesman by playing for dinner instead of selling your soul at the crossroads. When he closes the disc with a singalong of “I just wanna make music and friends,” the good spirits are too hard to resist.