Barrence Whitfield is an old school yelper in the tradition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Screamin’ Joe Neal and Bunker Hill. His backing band, The Savages, play a kinetic version of rock n’ roll that mixes blues, rockabilly, punk rock and r&b. But old school r&b, the raw, gritty stuff.
The Savages were born in the 70’s and their greatest period of activity was during the 80’s and into the 90’s, during which time they released a whopping ten records. They broke up for a while and resurfaced in a slightly altered form in 2010. Since then they’ve released three more records of white lightening rock and rhythm and blues. Their last record, Dig Thy Savage Soul, was a brilliant, blistering wild dog of an album on modern revivalist label Bloodshot Records.
Under The Savage Sky, their newest record for Bloodshot, picks up directly where Savage Soul left off. ‘Willow’, the album’s kick off track, begins with fuzzy riffage and pounding drums while Barrence baits the listener to ‘lose control’ in between couplets of poetry.
‘I’m A Full Grown Man’ features horns yelling and guitars yelping and Barrence himself letting loose on the mic assuring us that he can still rock a house and ‘sooth any woman’, despite his age. Listening to his impassioned delivery, you believe him.
‘The Claw’ features some more down and dirty horns and sludgy guitar, while ‘Rock N’ Roll Baby’ one of the record’s best and most frantic tracks, barrels along on its pulsating rhythm like a freight train about to come off its tracks.
‘Adjunct Street’ slows things down a bit, but contains no less passion or conviction on the part of either Barrence, or his Savages.
‘Angry Hands’ is a dark, swirling track that plays like the musical personification of Hitchcock’s The Birds. The guitars squeal and moan in a mournful warning while Barrence spins his macabre tale.
Fear not though, because ‘Bad News Perfume’ is nipping at its heals like a hungry, savage dog. It’s a fast, catchy tune that will have you dancing around the house and looking for a woman in a skirt to spin and dip with fury.
‘Katy Didn’t’ is an entertaining track about Barrence meeting his match in a woman who didn’t take no shit. It’s a fun story and another ripper.
The hilariously titled ‘Incarceration Casserole’ is one of the catchiest tunes on Savage Sky, while ‘The Wolf Pack’ is a classy throwback tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Howlin’ Wolf record.
‘I’m A Good Man’ is the musical personification of a man looking for a good woman to settle down with. It reads like a confessional personal ad over dirty horns.
And the album closer, ‘Full Moon in the Daylight Sky’ wraps things up with reflections on shortcomings, musically and lyrically. It’s a nice endnote.
The fact that Barrence Whitfield & The Savages are making music again is a cause for celebration for those of us with the unwavering belief that the 1950’s was music’s greatest decade and that the greatest music happening during that time was happening underground, in the sweaty, smoky clubs in the bad parts of town. The artists like Bunker Hill who would emerge long enough to cut a track or two and then disappear into the ether, leaving only those few blistering minutes as a record of their ever being there in the first place.
Barrence Whitfield & The Savages may have a discography that encompasses a dozen records, but they operate with the same mystique as a band with only a few short moments to bare their souls. And every track on Under The Savage Sky is played with that same kind of blistering conviction that sounds as if it were the last song these boys would ever play. If that’s not rock n’ roll, nothing is.