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More than HoJo mojo

Voodoo Love
The Voodoo Kings
Virtual Records

The borders of genre are often cliche or even worse, especially when you start dealing with questions of cultural imperialism--like taking the blues and turning it into good-time party music for white people. Voodoo--or as they say in Haiti, vodou--is a dark, spooky, genuinely disturbing aspect of life in a dark, spooky, genuinely disturbing place that makes Parchman Farm look like a church social. Turning aspects of that culture into a frozen-drink theme park for North Americans puts you on even shakier ground.

Couch your message in "My baby make a blind man see/Really like your peaches, wanna shake your tree"-type lyrics, and you truly end up with a bit more midnight tokery than most acts can support. It takes real enthusiasm--and a competence that bespeaks a measure of respect--to pull such a thing off.

Fortunately, the Voodoo Kings manage the feat. Spry, energetic--muscular, even--and punctuated with razor-sharp horn charts, the music on Voodoo Love is local product that gleams with a national shine. Peppy R&B--in this case, rhythm and boudain--the music is energized by a sense of flash very similar to Buddy Guy's, but pulls up just short (perfectly short, as a matter of fact) of Guy's unfortunate tendency toward hokum.

The band's creative dyad of Mouse Mayes and Chuck Hasley share songwriting duties; Mayes handles most of the singing and guitar work, while Hasley provides keyboard textures. Both men (Mayes in particular) sing in the growling, phlegmy approximation of a funky old bluesman that can--once again--be pretty irritating coming from a fey pretender. But--like the style's greatest practitioner, Billy Gibbons--they have a gleam in their eye, a certain shit-eating grin that transmits an affection that rescues them. The album moves from blues stompers ("Mojo Boogie") through a handful of covers (Rick Derringer's "Still Alive and Well," local musician Matt Iddings' "Save My Money") and on to gospel-tent evocations of streetwise evangelism ("Get Right with God") and release (the appropriately disc-closing "Fly Away"). Voodoo Love is good-time music that finally uses that mission as a reason rather than an excuse.

Mayes and Hasley probably aren't ever going to reveal that their inspiration lies in the works of Kafka or certain Tantric Buddhist texts. Nevertheless, their pumped-up versions of what are basically standard forms--praises of night life, hot love, cool cats 'n' kittens--come off as tributes to type rather than lazy or uninspired derivation, no small trick in an age where even twelve-year-olds feel they have a right to sing the blues.

--Matt Weitz

 
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