Groundhogs-Blues Obituary

March 29, 2012


Blues Obituary(1969 Liberty)

This is kind of a fitting title since it stands as one of the last hurrahs for the British strain of blues rock perfected on Fleetwood Mac’s Then Play On, even though Cream, the Yardbirds, John Mayall and Led Zeppelin might have a few words in opposition to that claim. Hell, even the Groundhogs themselves would probably disagree  since most point to the subsequent duo of Thank Christ for the Bomb and Split as the best albums of their career. However, their is something special about how Blues Obituary borrows from all the right touchstones of their American idols while imbuing each song with the just the right amount of swagger, brooding and instrumental pyrotechnics. Yeah, so many of the contemporaries did the same, but they lacked the important ingredient of all–a mutant strain of funk that serves as a subtle, but powerful undertow on many songs that drags you right into the repetitive groove of each song. Sure, Split and Thank Christ for the Bomb take the groundwork of Blues Obituary and turn it up ten or eleven notches, but there is something special about how they stretch out and really pound each riff into dust or elongate it into infinity via riffs that rise and fall like humble crests that slowly mature into tidal waves.

Unsurprisingly, they were named after a John Lee Hooker tune since they both knew how to mine a sinister vibe even when they were cruising at leisurely pace. Guitarist and vocalist Tony McPhee is the obvious focal point throughout as he solidifies his claim as one of the most underrated rock guitarists of the 60s and early 70s. You know you live in a shitty world when Eric Clapton gets canonized while McPhee’s name wouldn’t garner a speck of recognition from 99% of classic rock aficionados. Outside of a number one hit in Lebabon of all places and a prestigious opening slot on a 1971 Rolling Stones tour, they never gained much traction outside of their native England where their next three albums hit the top 10 on the albums chart. I guess it is somewhat understandable since they only hit their stride in 1969 at the tail end of an era amenable to bluesy rock and roll acts more interested in showcasing the solo than the chorus, but they’d probably be more of a household name if they released Blues obituary a few years earlier. Oh well, life ain’t fair and god knows how many bands were birthed in the right place at the wrong time. I probably have written about a lot of them here. I guess I must be drawn to the gentle tragedies in life.

That’s enough whining about a hypothetical world where the Groundhogs reigned supreme. Let’s get to the stumbling fury of “Times” which might be one of my favorite songs to listen to while barreling down the highway. Let’s be honest. I’m lame, so barreling means a slight gradation over the speed limit in my world, but that’s not the point here. I’m a stone cold sucker for the slide guitar in a driving rock and roll song. Although the Jesus Lizard’s “Nub” ekes out a victory over “Times” in my imaginary sweepstakes, it doesn’t lessen the brilliance of how McPhee’s fingers race up and down his guitar as the rest of the band does it’s best job of imitating Bo Diddley after a bottle of codeine syrup as he relates a heartwarming tale of pondering suicide via a one way dive into the depths of the ocean. It’s a nihilistic, bleak tune that is simultaneously triumphant and beaten to a pulp.

“Mistreated” has a hard act to follow, but does it with impeccable style. Centered around a stuttering riff that could almost pass as a precursor to Black Sabbath if it was slathered with distortion and electrified, it lays the groundwork for an impassioned plea by a naive soul confused by the collapse of a romance. It doesn’t take a therapist to sort out that he is the source of his own ruin, but McPhee’s vocals are full of such pain and frustration that it melds perfectly with the agitated and and uneasy instrumentation that coalesce into a cry for help and forgiveness. Ultimately, those are probably the best adjectives to describe the overall vibe of Blues obituary–agitated and uneasy. On the surface, it’s just an adventurous blues rock album, but there is something malignant, restless and disastrous lying underneath if you listen closely.


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