Young rock bands in the 21st century still wrestle with the legacy of the blues, though their attention tends to be divided. While some pore over archival recordings, others are grappling with the first set of young rock bands to go crate-digging, 40 years ago. Louisiana duo Deadboy & The Elephantmen are in the first category. The band's debut album, We Are Night Sky, sounds like it was recorded in a tin shack deep in the bayou, with no one around but the gators, the crickets, and the ghosts of old roadhouse patrons.
Frontman Dax Riggs and his percussionist/background singer Tessie Brunet offer a variation on the increasingly common guitar-and-drums format, but they don't immediately resemble The White Stripes, The Black Keys, or even House Of Freaks. Deadboy's "Blood Music" thrums like a downed electric wire snaking on an icy street, and "Misadventures Of Dope" rattles like a busted carburetor, but the album's other stripped-down blues vamps—like "Dressed In Smoke"—open up into unexpected realms, adding psychedelic twang and introspective hush. And that snaky lead guitar in "Break It Off" could hardly be called traditional, unless that tradition is the kudzu-covered rock of early R.E.M. What makes Deadboy & The Elephantmen unique isn't that they're fueled by scratchy old 78s, but the way they rebottle the spirit of those records. It's like they're discovering what their sound can do as they're playing.
There's a smidgen more calculation to the music of New York rockers The Witnesses, though that doesn't make the band's Black Eyes And White Lies any less enjoyable. Any band capable of a frenzied rave-up like "Be Straight With Me" or a raunchy rock anthem like "Better Half"—one of the best Rolling-Stones-in-America homages since the heyday of Railroad Jerk—can be excused for repeating what others have already done. At this point, The Rolling Stones and New York Dolls (the thrift-store Stones) have become traditionalist touchstones all their own, as much a part of the canon as Robert Johnson or Howlin' Wolf. When The Witnesses launch into the ringing, stinging riff that runs throughout "Stockholm Syndrome," it's exciting to discover that such adept students still exist.