Album: Grandpaboy

Dead Man Shake, Fat Possum
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The Independent Culture

With his influence increasingly evident in the work of alt.rockers such as Ryan Adams, the former Replacements frontman and creative mainspring Paul Westerberg has returned to the fray with a vengeance recently.

Dead Man Shake marks the return of Westerberg's rock'n'roll alter ego, Grandpaboy, the persona responsible for the Mono half of last year's Stereo/Mono double album. This time around, Grandpaboy has found his natural home on the raw blues label Fat Possum, heretofore best known for rediscovering such thrilling blues primitives as RL Burnside, T-Model Ford and the late Junior Kimbrough. It's a marriage made in heaven, artist and label both valuing emotional immediacy over technique, and sharing a healthy disdain for fussy recording methods. Indeed, towards the end of "Vampires & Failures", a light, Stones-y slice of R&B raunch, there's a persistent buzzing whine, like hair clippers, that obscures the song's latter stages. It sounds like a malfunctioning amplifier - and it's brandished like a hallmark of rootsy authenticity.

The album is a mixture of Westerberg's blues originals and a handful of covers, the most significant being a lovely, sloppy version of the Jimmy Reed classic "Take out Some Insurance", which provides the touchstone for the whole project. "Natural Mean Lover", which follows later, is a dead ringer for Reed's trademark sound, the musical equivalent of a drunken slouch, while elsewhere "Bad Boy Blues" offers low-slung harmonica boogie and "No Matter What You Say" a slow twelve-bar blues trudge of enigmatic melancholy. "Rumour and innuendo sendin' circles around my eyes," sings Westerberg, "went to Madison Square Garden and had a terrible time".

Dead Man Shake opens with the taut, chunky R&B of "MPLS", Westerberg's toast to his home town Minneapolis, then slips into the solo country blues "Do Right in Your Eyes", where Grandpaboy's universal complaint - "I can do no right in your eyes/ Anything I do, you criticise" - is recorded with plenty of atmospheric reverb, sounding uncannily like some long-lost outtake from an early Sun Studios session. Elsewhere, John Prine's "Souvenirs" is re-cast as slide-guitar blues, as is a version of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", affirming once again the close affinity between blues and country. Westerberg's own songs, meanwhile, are marked by a recidivist spirit that makes light of his own scuzzier tendencies and his empathy for "the vampires and the failures" that live by night. "Whatever happened to Paul?" he enquires in "OD Blues". "He fell in with bad companions and he lived happily ever after, yo!" Something for which the rest of us ought to be heartily grateful: after all, Grandpaboy is out there getting wrecked and waking up feeling wretched, just so we don't have to. Unless we really want to, of course.