CD review: Barrence Whitfield – Dig Thy Savage Soul
Boston’s Barrence Whitfield doesn’t just sing R&B, he assaults it. Whitfield and his band of Savages wage a full-on frontal attack as frightening as it is entertaining, exuding gritty soul wrapped in a garage punk package that packs a wallop.
Billing himself as a purveyor of rockabilly, roots, jump blues, funk and soul, Whitfield tears up those territories with his gruff, muscular delivery.
His over the top performances that often left him bloody from self abuse on stage in the ’80s ended at the end of that decade, but the band regrouped last year with a European tour and release. With their latest, Dig Thy Savage Soul, out on Bloodshot Records Aug 13th, Whitfield and his Savages are now reminding American audiences that their former power has not diminished.
A remake of crooner Bobby Hebb’s ’66’s hit “Sunny” b-side, “Bread,” comes off like Wilson Pickett fronting the Stooges, jagged shards of guitar from original member Peter Greenberg stabbing at the melody as Whitfield punches it into submission. “Y’see, there’s only one thing in all this world to make you popular with all the girls and that’s bread, that’s what I said,”Whitfield proclaims.
His most bizarre excursion is on “Sugar,” a tortured love song that sounds like it might have crawled up out of the coffin with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. But while Hawkins told his woman that if she didn’t act right he’d put her in a place where the groundhawg would be bringing her mail every night, Whitfield, numbed with alcohol, invites her to bring on the abuse. “If you wanna hit me/ that’s ok/ ’cause I’m already beat up anyway,” Whitfield joyfully tells his belligerent lover. “If you wanna slap me/that’s just fine/cause you know I’ll hardly feel it after one more glass of wine,” he shouts over Greenberg’s clanking blues licks. “You say you love me/well baby who cares/if you take the escalator I’ll be running down the stairs.”
“I’m Sad About It” sounds like it too could have been delivered by Hawkins, a throat scalding exercise reminiscent of Hawkins’ lunatic masterpiece “I Put A Spell on You,” Whitfield sounding like he’s in danger of bleeding out from the damage to his vocal cords.
Surf meets punkabilly on “Blackjack,” a sparse, ’60s era assault on the senses. “You know you blister me baby,”Whitfield manages to gasp between blood curdling screams and thundering waves of Greenberg guitar crashing over him.
Whitfield and the Savages never let up, pummeling your heart and your eardrums with some of the rawest soul to come along since Pickett and Redding. It’s a welcome assault, as soothing as it is savage, and long overdue.
By Grant Britt