For a band that regularly invoked its own name as a chest-beating rallying cry for the power of rock ’n’ roll, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion never really got its due. Questions of authenticity dogged the group throughout its ’90s heyday—never mind that the run of 1993’s Extra Width, 1994’s Orange, and 1996’s Now I Got Worry was one of the strongest of the decade. These days, the band’s raucous blues-punk has been co-opted dozens of times over by anonymous automatons like The Black Keys, and Spencer’s Elvis-as-carnival-barker frontman act seems even more out of time. But on the Blues Explosion’s first album in eight years, Meat And Bone, the group makes a surprisingly credible attempt at legitimizing its “The Blues is still No. 1!” throne, no strings or gimmicks attached.
Mixed by Spencer himself, Meat And Bone wisely passes over the Beck and Dr. John guest-spots of yesteryear in favor of stripped-down, balls-to-the-wall swagger. Spencer, guitarist Judah Bauer, and drummer Russell Simins crunch and stomp their way through opener “Black Mold,” and mine the hip-shaking geekiness of Worry’s “Wail” on the excellent “Bag Of Bones.” Elsewhere, the effortlessly funky “Get Your Pants Off” hews closest to the band’s Orange days (and includes the sole “Blues Explosion!” shout-out of the album).
Following the 2010 reissues of the group’s ’90s Matador albums, Meat And Bone is largely a success, even if its less-focused second half feels a bit rote. “Too many squares! Too much… mediocrity!” Spencer cries during “Bag Of Bones.” It’s less a crotchety complaint from a weary veteran than a plain statement of fact; indeed, Meat And Bone is the heir apparent to Now I Got Worry, and a fine return to form.