Black-Eyed Snakes – It’s The Black-Eyed Snakes
October 30, 2001
What It Sounds Like: Low / Retribution Gospel Choir frontman Alan Sparhawk and players experiment with down-in-the-dirt blues that’s caked in distortion and played through blown out speakers.
I’m an Alan Sparhawk fan. If he’s involved, I’m certainly excited to hear the end result of whatever he’s cooked up. Over ten years ago, he formed this blues side-project with some locals up in Duluth, Minnesota, and it packs a gritty punch. These are the snakes of the swamp, slithering through the back doors of the local bar, hiding in the corners waiting for the moment to emerge out of the shadows. They’re one and the same as the local patrons – hard faces, stained shirts, and reeking of the cheapest beer in the back of the cooler at the one-pump mini-mart.
Chicken Bone George isn’t only the lead off track, but also the persona that Sparhawk adopts for the rest of the record. His vocals are so distorted that you wouldn’t have the slightest clue it was him if you weren’t already told so. Do you have an image in your head of Chicken Bone George? I know you do. Keep it there – I guarantee you that it’s spot on. The solo flies in when the sparks start jumping out of the two-pronged electric outlet. George pushes his vocals to their gruff limit. Tables start flying. Beer bottles start breaking. Asses of the washed up female bartenders start getting slapped while toothless-wonders smile wide and tilt their head back for a final gulp.
There’s nothing compact about this recording. It’s as loose at that chick at the bar, and as sleezy as the married man whispering vile requests her ear. Big Black Train chugs along at three four time, while Mannish Boy adopts a tried-and-true chilled out blues rhythm that has been used an infinite number of times of the years, always to sound just as fresh as the first time it was played. The seven-plus minute My New House starts off clangy and slow, only to explode at the end into a southern, droning, almost-shoegazy wall of sound.
The lyrics are hard to discern. They’re not printed in the accompanying booklet, nor can I find them anywhere online. But those that you can make out are glimpses into the tales of the lyin’, cheatin’, two-timin’ son-of-a-…well, you get the idea. Morals arn’t exactly Chicken Bone George’s highest priority, but then again, they arn’t that high on the list for anybody else in this forgotten swamp town either. How about the lyrical bombshell of 8 Inch Knife? These may not be exactly correct, but I’ve done the best that I can:
Well I had me a woman / I made her my wife
I gave her my lovin’ / I gave her my life
But I started to wander / I stayed out all night
She’s showed appreciation / With an 8 inch knife
She was standin’ in the kitchen / Starin’ at the floor
With an 8 inch knife / And a broken heart
She cut me down / My sweet southern wife
Now I’m 6 feet under / From an 8 inch knife
Can’t you see that?
Dirty dishes overflowing in the sink. Cobwebs blowing from the lamps. A drunk husband stumbles in at 3 in the morning with his mud-caked boots, with his wife standing there with her stained apron on. She makes him pay. Deep.
It’s not for the everyday – of course not, and the blues has been done many times before, probably much better than this, and much worse than this. But for Sparhawk and company to come up with this – it’s certainly unique enough – and it’s an on-point execution.
If you had to listen to two tracks: Chicken Bone George / 8 Inch Knife