Minneapolis-based whiskey-soaked heavy blues rock
Amping up the blues has been happening since the mid-sixties, so it's amazing how some bands manage to refresh the genre for each successive generation. Coming from the Queens of the Stone Age and Soundgarden school of heavy, whisky-soaked grunge-edged, hard rockin' blues The Rockford Mules add a much needed rawness back to blues rock.
It's tempting to dismiss the Mules as unrefined (if strangely appealing) noise until mid-album where 'Goodnight Sunshine' creeps softly into the mix, revealing a softer underbelly to the rabble-rousing crunch of 'Mudfoot Barker' and 'Drag The Swamp'. Unashamedly thoughtful, it gives the band and album a new dimension without compromising on the full-on masculinity their image projects. 'Ma They Broke Me' itself is the same; a crowd-pleasing singalong that holds back on the all-out noise in favour of lazy slide guitars and clear vocals. These guys rightly refuse to be pigeonholed.
'Hey John Wayne' is a return to the scratchy-vocalled aural assault the Mules excel at. They pound out shattering riffs and heavy rhythm that ups their game tenfold as they tread the fine line between heavy rock credibility and actual listenability. 'Sleepin' Demon Blues' is the track that sorts the real deal men from the bandwagon following boys, breaking with an intensity that's impossible to fake.
'Hammerswinger' is a curious mix of laid-back hook and intense overdriven vocals and slide guitar. It's a blessedly original take on the traditional Southern sound, proving the Mules aren't against experimentalism but always draw on their slide-guitar roots and hard-edged lyrics. Conversely, 'Son of Hammerswinger' cleverly reverses the process the same way a child goes out of their way to not become their parents. A delicate, fingerpicked guitar exercise with heartfelt lyrics and low-key performance. It segues straight into the haunting 'Don't Tell Them What You've Seen', showing off a more straightforward blues attitude and slow (perhaps too slow) pace.
Sadly these guys will have limited commercial appeal compared to the easier-on-the-ear Black Stone Cherry and their ilk. But there's a burning intensity and rawness that sears through this album and sets it alight with originality drawn on experience and self-belief. This will have major appeal for a crossover audience who craves both razor sharp blues and modern hard rock stylings.