Left Lane Cruiser are one of those blues duos like The Black Keys or The White Stripes, but any similarities between LLC and those acts is strictly superficial.
Hailing from Fort Wayne, Indiana, these boys (Frederick “Joe” Evans IV on slide guitar and vocals, Brenn Beck on drums, blues harp, and percussion) make Jack White’s Stripes act look like blues cabaret, and make The Black Keys seem downright prissy and bourgeois.
The wonderfully titled Junkyard Speed Ball, LLC’s fourth effort, is raw and bluesy in the best way, drawing not only on the original blues masters like Son House, but also on the faded and jaded vibe of the Rolling Stones in their Exile On Main Street daze and the raw intensity of the underrated Johnny Winter during his smacked-out Johnny Winter And Live tour, with a dash of early ZZ Top thrown in for good measure.
The album takes off with the harmonica and slide driven frenzy of “Lost My Mind,” setting the overall tone here, and then detours off into a Stonesy blues-soul ballad, “Giving Tree,” which features some nice organ licks from guest Reverend James Leg (aka John Wesley Myers) of The Black Diamond Heavies.
There is no real let-up in quality control throughout Junkyard Speed Ball, whose overall thematic vibe is that of a lost America never seen on cable news: a musical portrait of a torn and frayed people who have suffered in the throes of an early 21st century economy that has left them behind, as they drink corn whiskey and dream of a better life somewhere down the line.
Of special note is the instant classic, “Pig Farm,” a devastating country-blues ballad that sees the LLC boys taking their songwriting chops to another level.
“This ain’t no life, good Lord / babe, this ain’t no kinda fun / but it’s a hog farm holocaust / yeah, babe, you’d better run,” Evans passionately sings of the ugly, bloody reality of killing animals for others to eat.
A blistering guitar solo and sombre electric piano from James Leg leaves the listener moved, shaken — and ready to become a vegetarian.
Overall, Junkyard Speed Ball is an early contender for album of the year, and an authentic and inspiring updating of the blues-rock idiom for the 21st century.