For timely relief from modern problems, you can’t top Dance Songs for Hard Times, the electrifying new long player from Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band. Although this Indiana-spawned combo was already well versed in tales of life on the edge – witness their 2018 effort Poor Until Payday – it seems like the long-running trio’s time has truly come with this cathartic set, composed and recorded during the pandemic and surely the perfect prelude to better times.
A finger-picking guitar master with an album of Charley Patton songs on his resume, Rev. Josh Peyton boasts sterling country blues credentials. On Dance Songs for Hard Times, he plugs in and cranks up the volume, unleashing a sizzling barrage of ace slide-guitar noises, not to mention the kind of urgent electric chords that made John Lee Hooker’s early 78s so thrilling. But while it’s easy to imagine Rev. Peyton riffing endlessly on a chestnut like Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” for his own amusement in private, he keeps things concise here.
Peyton emphasizes his burly, commanding voice and eloquent original material, populating Dance Songs for Hard Times with catchy tracks that have the zing of classic pop music, only greasier. Flanked by nimble colleagues Max Senteney on drums and spouse Breezy Peyton on washboard, he laments financial woes in the bruising “Ways and Means,” his haunted growl recalling Howlin’ Wolf’s surreal wailing, and ponders survival tactics on “Dirty Hustlin’,” punctuating the slow-grind tempo with agitated yelps that suggest a desperate man on the verge of bad behavior.
Seething with righteous anger, the stomping “Crime to Be Poor” considers the broader import of poverty, contrasting how the underclass and the well-off fare in the justice system. “Fish without a license get cuffs on your wrist / Kill the whole river and it’s case dismissed,” Peyton barks, ready to storm the barricades.
In his darker moods, there’s no sugarcoating. The howling “No Tellin’ When” bemoans the lockdown-induced loss of friends, work, and even motherly contact, while a cloud of depression looms large on “Sad Songs,” as he morosely compares himself to a “condemned man,” shouting, “No one’s gonna call / Nobody ever will.”
Happily, when his spirit rebounds Peyton seizes the moment, determined to wring joy from the everyday. The frantic “Rattle Can” finds him bellowing, “I need the whole shebang / Just a little taste won’t do,” and “Too Cool to Dance” issues a twangy call to revel in the now, troubles be damned. Bearing traces of such rockabilly greats as Carl Perkins and The Cramps, these exuberant tracks point to a promising stylistic tangent for Peyton and crew.
The album closes with “Come Down Angels,” a plea for divine help. “Be so gracious as to please come and save us,” exclaims Peyton over a rousing gospel groove, which is a tad unsettling. After all, if the Reverend feels overwhelmed by today’s tribulations, how are we mere mortals supposed to cope? Ultimately, though, there’s so much love and life-affirming energy on display that it’s impossible not to feel better after a dose of Dance Songs for Hard Times.