2013 – Independent
The master of the hoodoo-blues, Pugsley Buzzard, is back again with another raving, rolling journey through the old-time swinging sounds of New Orleans jazz, country gospel, and eerie swamp blues. Twinkling piano and gravel laced voice are both back on top form with this release, but this time the listener is in for a a little something different to what was heard on 2010’s Wooden Kimono. Kicking off the whole thing with the foot-pounding, finger-clicking instrumental Cigarstore Indian the listener can instantly hear the transition Buzzard has made over the last few years from the darkness of his noir-fiction aesthetic into the lighter, yet just as riveting, bourbon filled world of the French Quarter on a hot summer’s afternoon.
The band no longer drag themselves through the despairing melodies like some sort of skeletal orchestra of death, rather they jaunt with the cock-hatted flippancy of a jam session crew playing for sheer joy and love. The brass arrangements in tracks like Fubar and Sin City Lights, for example, bounce and pop with such syncopated mirth that it’s hard not to let the lazy lope of good, laid back jazz creep right into the depths of your very bones, and Buzzard’s slammed major chords in Dirty Wings conjure the heart-warming images of good friends, good food, and good booze.
The record is not all roses, light, and good-times, however. The racing gangster-jazz riot of Gumbo Boogie brings some of the rattling bones of his earlier hoodoo back into the fold with it’s pulsating piano riffs, growled vocals, and whirlwind of chaotic brass lines, and the evil spirits abound in the dark proto-funk creep of Fire In The Hole. Lyrically too Pugsley retains a certain amount of weight about his stage persona by tempering his uplifting musical lines with the resigned hep-speak that can only come from a man who has lived the darkness of his sunglasses and only recently woken up with the shining light of a new day. The humble jubilation of the gospel tinged Po’ Boy and the stark tenderness of Let Sleeping Dogs Lie really showcase the fact Buzzard’s abilities lie not only with his formidable skills when it comes to the keyboard, but with his writing and poetry too.
Whether Chasin’ Aces is a stronger record than Wooden Kimono is a debate that I will not enter into for the simple fact that it is not. It is not a worse album in any way, it is simply a differently painted landscape of the smoky, warped world of the Buzzard-man. Chasin’ Aces is a record of the day as Wooden Kimono is of the night, even if both are tinged at times with shades of each other. They can, I suppose, be seen as a kind of companion piece to one another, both building upon the same foundations of solid jazz, solid musicianship, and solid song-writing to bring new characters and soundscapes to light or to drag them back down into the darkness. And tragically it appears all that’s left aside from repeat plays of this new record is to wait impatiently for the Buzzard to paint up the next musical portrait of his bizarre world of hipsters, flipsters, and finger-poppin’ daddies.
Really, this album has done nothing but confirm for me that Pugsley Buzzard is probably the finest purveyor of hoodoo since Cab Calloway first conjured the ghost of Smokey Joe up from the depths and one of the most dangerously alluring blues singers since Howlin’ Wolf first rasped out Smokestack Lightning.
If you like jazz, if you like the blues, hell if you like music at all, this is one record I can’t recommend highly enough. Just go out right now and get yourself a copy, light a cigar, pour yourself a neat glass of something, and get lost in this triumph of an album.
Chasin’ Aces has earned a place on the list of the year’s best albums.
- Pugsley Buzzard Album Launch (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)