Published May 06, 2016The blues can be sinister or silly, sweet, spiritual or a total party; Whitehorse manage to capture all of that on The Northern South Vol. 1, a long psychedelic rock EP homage to Chess bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon (who wrote three of the six tunes), Jimmy Reed (who first performed many of them) and others, including Howlin' Wolf and Chuck Berry.
Whitehorse — the multi-instrumentalist duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland — approach the genre as technically adept non-purists, layering drum machines and keys on top of bass, guitar and harmonica. One song, a fuzzed-up "Wang Dang Doodle," is about partying, but throughout the EP, it's pretty clear Doucet and McClelland are having fun together regardless.
They say they were inspired by Jimi Hendrix, and that comes through on "Nadine," their slowed down, boomier Chuck Berry cover, where guitar lines rain down over quarter notes on the piano; but I hear Sgt. Pepper's-style guitar too, notably on opener "My Babe."
"Nadine" lacks the boppy, upbeat, rollicking perfection (and carefree humour) of the original, but Whitehorse's transformation directs attention to the creepiness inherent in the lyrics. The speaker is desperately following Nadine around — or, you could say, stalking.
The duo strips things down for one song, "Big Boss Man," and it works well, evoking something akin to the Holly Golightly and Dan Melchior partnership, though Whitehorse are probably more perfectionist. But for the most part, The Northern South Vol. 1 is about maximizing volume with all they've got. This means bringing out the scary, distorted side of rhythmic "Pretty Thing" and '70s-ifying Robert Johnson's "Come on in My Kitchen," which closes the mini-album.
Arguably the only misstep, the heavy, trudging cover goes into a bluegrass/grunge/psychedelic feedback experiment, which feels a little forced. And really, why mess with a good thing? (Six Shooter)