Before succumbing to ALS, Lead Belly recorded an original “Old Riley” that refers to his protagonist walking on water while fleeing to freedom. Hence the inspirational namesake for guitarist Sean Riley, who recorded this flowing debut featuring six originals with drummer Ray Micarelli (Video Age) and bassist Andrew Landry (Sexy Dex and the Fresh). But really Riley’s brand of blues has nothing to do with Hughie Ledbetter unless the folk-blues legend was born 70 years later and played in a suburban garage rock band as a zit-faced teenager.
But even with Riley’s penchant for dirty mics and fuzzed-out distortion, it’s still a form of the blues, with the hellacious hangover tale “Blues Walking” being the most Delta-sounding. “Trouble” sports a chugging Jimmy Reed backbeat and producer Joshua Cook’s wicked harmonica lines. “Try and Understand” contains that sly humor blues is famous for: “I just wanna be your lover/ don’t wanna be your old man.” The lone cover “Howlin’ For My Darlin’” finds Riley affecting Howlin’ Wolf’s guttural vocals.
But better yet, Riley hooks his listener with varied guitar riffs that are part of his signature. He goes all out on the title track, pushing his vintage equipment to bombastic heights while repeating the catchphrase “biting through” throughout the chaos. Based on this, it’ll be interesting to hear what comes next in the life of Riley.