Three or four years ago I wrote a long essay in Paste on blues music, and its impact on my life. A few weeks later I received a very nice letter from one Dave Perkins, who told me that he also loved the blues, and wondered if he could send me his rough demos of blues recordings. "Sure," I wrote him back. So he sent them. And they were good. Really good. They kicked. So I decided to check up a bit on this Dave Perkins. It turns out that Dave is a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt’s Center for the Study of Religion and Culture, and currently serves as Administrative Director for Vanderbilt’s Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture program. Cool. It also turns out he's a pretty well-known guitar slinger, and has produced and recorded with the likes of Steve Taylor (Chagall Guevera), Ray Charles, Carole King, Papa John Creach, Willie Nelson, John Belushi, Over the Rhine, Squeeze, Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Hunter S. Thompson, Phil Keaggy, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ashley Cleveland, and Charlie Daniels. And more.
"Okay," I thought to myself. "I'd like to meet this guy sometime." We exchanged emails from time to time, but I didn't have the chance to meet him until the recently concluded Festival of Faith and Music at Calvin College. Dave was there presenting a paper on rock bands influenced by Flannery O'Connor and southern gothic culture. I was there to play American Idol-like judge in a new bands contest. And we finally met at Calvin and had a wonderful dinnertime conversation over Chinese food, and Dave promised to send off his new album as soon as it was mixed. It arrived today.
Have you ever experienced the sonic equivalent of being slammed against a wall? That's this album Pistol City Holiness. These are the most impolite blues ever performed by a Christian, and I mean that in the best possible sense. Well, maybe Rev. Gary Davis and Blind Willie Johnson are in this rude choir as well, but that's pretty great company. Dave shreds on the guitar and wails like a banshee, and the superb band (Reece Wynans, Richard Price, T.J. Klay, Mel Watts, Ashley Cleveland) absolutely rips it up behind him. This is primal stuff, it rocks like crazy, and it's the unfiltered deal, both sonically and lyrically, featuring tales of knife fights, long gone sweethearts, the Holy Ghost, cherryfish and chicken, tent revivals, unemployment, and mercies that are new every morning. It also features the stellar lines "She's a hell of a woman when she's all dressed up for church," "I would hang with the Baptists if they could get that girl for me" and "I coulda been a preacher man but there's a hellhound on my trail." Amen, brother. You and me and Robert Johnson make three. I don't really qualify, at least on the blues front, but I know I'm in damn good company.