A Trio of Fat Possums
by Stephen Slaybaugh

Once a label home primarily to the backwoods, rubbed raw Delta blues of old-timers like RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and T-Model Ford, Fat Possum, in case you hadn’t noticed, has been expanding their artists and repertoire (A&R to lay folks) in recent years. Hell, next week they’re releasing the new record by Andrew Bird, who might just be furthest (read: whitest) thing from the label’s one-time bread-and-butter. But those old blues hounds can’t live forever (Burnside and Kimbrough already kicked the bucket) so stuff like the Black Keys doesn’t seem like that big a stretch.

Anyhow, for whatever reason (certainly not profit margins) they’ve also started releasing 7-inches, at the rate of one a month, though they’re not part of the singles club club. Back in November they put out “Stain Stick Skin” b/w “The Ballad of Bandit X” by John Barrett’s Bass Drum of Death from label home base, Oxford, Mississippi. While kinda a one-man band, Barrett comes off more like one man as two-piece, sticking to a sparse formula like that of his labelmates the Black Keys or, maybe more accurately, the Kills. As it turns out, it’s the B-side whose grooves will be worn out first. Here, Barrett casts some rolling stones, baked blues riffs gliding over hand-clapped and kick-drummed rhythms. Indeed, it’s that bass drum noted in his pen name that’s his main accompaniment, but on “Stain Stick Skin” he augments it with a high hat, his sinewy guitar lines snaking in between.

There’s something eerily familiar about Thomas Function’s “Belly of the Beast,” like I’ve heard it before, but it’s apparently not a cover. That probably just speaks to the persuasive powers of this band, who combine Southern R&B, gutterbucket country blues and punk spunk. Like the band’s Celebration album, this one’s a golden nugget (on marbled yellow vinyl no less), vocal harmonies melding with a tune so memorable you’ll be having deja vu too. The flip, “Bones Don’t Bleed” is only slightly less so. At a slow canter, it lacks the A-side’s buoyant center, but that’s nothing to make you think less of the Alabama boys.

Like any record, the first thing you notice with the King Khan & BBQ Show’s new one is the cover, done here by Mathieu Trudel of Ren and Stimpy fame. But it only gets better, especially for those who’ve learned to color inside the lines. Contained within is a 15-page coloring book putting the A-side into words. Like you might expect from its title, “Animal Party” is a romping ditty about a night getting down with 12 chickens, three elephants, five pigs, eight monkeys, two cows and a zebra. (Okay, maybe you wouldn’t necessarily expect it.) The King festoons the song fittingly with plenty of chicken-scratched guitars and howls (and snorts and clucks), recalling the camp one used to find on all sorts of oddball 45s back in the day. But again the B-side’s better. “God of Raisins” also tosses in plenty of kitsch, but the song’s just got a little more somethin’-somethin’, the guitar’s got more roar and the drumbeat’s bigger. All-in-all the kinda fun one-off of which I wish we’d see more.

MP3: Thomas Function, “Belly of the Beast”