From the moment Delta Blues pioneer Robert Johnson sang of having a ‘Hellhound On My Trail’, the blues has always carried the ability to transport it’s listener into the deepest, darkest crevices of the mind and to dwell on the most damning realities of the human condition. Lurgan duo The Bonnevilles attempt to summon some of the ghosts of the genre’s past with long-awaited third LP, Arrow Pierce My Heart.
The almost a-capella intro to opener ‘No Law In Lurgan’, with singer-guitarist Andrew McGibbon Jr. striking a single chord to accompany the menacing, Son House style vocal melody, before exploding into the band’s familiar punk-blues assault. McGibbon’s soulful vocals and filthily raw guitar tone will provoke inevitable comparison to the early set of DIY, recorded-in-a-basement records from the Black Keys. Although the lo-fi attack of the set is similar to the Ohio band’s garage classics Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory, The Bonnevilles embrace the stranger side of the blues, such as on the understated shuffle of the title track, much like The Black Keys did on their psychedelic tribute EP Chulahoma, covering the songs of forgotten country bluesman Junior Kimbrough.
Lyrically, the album is as teak-tough as the music that accompanies it, with tales of hard drinking (the outstanding slow blues workout ‘The Whiskey Lingers’), murder (‘Who Do I Have To Kill To Get Out of Here?’), and references to sin and the devil throughout, feel good guitar pop this is not, although the tales of deception and wrong decisions, delivered with both power yet a cool detachment from McGibbon, add an extra layer of gothic cool to the tracks. Despite the undoubted power of distorted, monster riffs and clattering drums, of the course of a full album the sound can begin to grow tiresome, a fact that the duo are only too aware of, as the album has welcome changes of pace throughout. The seductive licks of ‘The Electric Company’ is arguably the band at their most accessible, with the subtle drumming of Chris McMullan giving the song a dancefloor ready feel.
Two acoustic tracks show the softer side of McGibbon’s fretwork, in the form of ‘Eggs and Bread’ and ‘Those Little Lies.’ ‘Eggs and Bread’, a little under a minute, deals with the familiar folk tale of a man waiting for the gallows, but the standout is the haunting country-blues ballad ‘Those Little Lies’, with McGibbon’s whiskey-soaked vocal carrying the same sense of regret that permeates a great Nick Cave tune. Along with ingeniously titled, laid back instrumental ‘Erotica Luguna Lurgana’, with McGibbon’s whistling adding to good time vibes, there is enough variety so that rockers like ‘I’ve Come Too Far For Love To Die’ and ‘Learning To Cope’ don’t become tiresome.
15 years on from The White Stripes White Blood Cells showed that two-piece punk-blues could capture an international audience, the genre has played host to a wealth of artists plundering the genre’s deeply powerful sound in the years that have followed. The Bonnevilles refuse to fall in to the traps of the genre’s limitations, and have instead delivered a bruising, powerful and eclectic long-player full of invention that grows and grows with repeated listens.