The paradox of minimalism is the expansive freedom it offers; strip things down, and you can take them anywhere. Such is the lesson of the latest art project from Whitehorse, the married Canadian duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland.
The pair stomps and beats some warhorses — if not dead horses — into new life on The Northern South Vol. 1 (out May 6 on Six Shooter Records). This six-song EP includes staples of the musical progression from Mississippi to Chicago, and from Delta blues to rock and roll, recasting them with a drum machine, sweet harmonies, and squalling guitar to suggest the sound of Chess Records as deconstructed by Eurythmics.
On “Wang Dang Doodle,” a piano progression of single notes mediates between cool harmonies and blast-furnace guitar. On “Big Boss Man,” the defiance of Jimmy Reed’s original turns sultry and sweet through the languid, acoustic arrangement. Bo Diddley’s “Pretty Thing” retains its title hook and primal rhythm, but becomes a whole new song in lyric and theme. And when the closing “Come on in My Kitchen” goes for broke, it ratchets up the intensity with a banjo, and somehow raises a ruckus that Robert Johnson might have liked just fine.
These aren’t your grandfather’s blues, but they show that the material is timeless, transformed by a musical vision that is true to its own time and place.