Blood & Mood

Blood & Mood

Trailblazing? Trend-mongering? Career ending? All three? Fans of the Bad Livers' odd slant on bluegrass will debate the stylistic about-face of Blood & Mood. Heresies abound: reassembled drum tracks, samples, treated vocals, electric guitars, even synthesizers. But given the Bad Livers' decade-plus history, it's impressive that the band still possesses the capacity to surprise. The group's early marathon sets in Austin bars were typical. A banjo-fiddle-standup bass trio, they played with menace, prone to whip out a Roky Erickson or Metallica cover. Bassist Mark Rubin, whose prodigious frame is covered with tattoos, complemented Danny Barnes's longhair biker look; the Pleasant Valley Boys they weren't. Yet, more than the novelty, it was Barnes's talent that kept the crowds coming back. His dexterity on all manner of string instruments and his offhand hoarse twang claimed a distinct style rooted in traditionalism. Nestled among MIDI sequencers and samplers, the style is still unmistakable. Blood & Mood is not a dalliance but a grab at something new: bridging cold-hearted techno and the warmth of rural music with a rock exuberance. At times it eludes the Livers' grasp. Songs don't end as much as stop; some grate, others meander. Yet "Little Bitty Town" is charming and sad in its simplicity and sets a tone of uneasy isolation. "Death Trip" uncoils snaky slow funk, while "One More Night" is a furious Flatt, Scruggs, and Hendrix romp. "Love Songs Suck" melds styles seamlessly, as the deep bass mirrors the vocal and subdued steel materializes in the chorus. Better still is "Man vs. Fate — 2 Out of 3 Falls, 10 Pound Limit," a fidgety rumination on life shrouded in what can only be described as down-home trip-hop. Those who value labels and like their genres to stay put had best avoid Blood & Mood . As always with the Bad Livers, it pays to keep your ears wide open. by Jeff McCord

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