Chance encounters can lead to great things. When Aaron Moreland and Dustin Arbuckle met at an open mic session in Witchita, neither would have guessed their musical partnership would eventually carry them across oceans to entertain U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait. But then, Moreland and Arbuckle aren’t exactly a typical blues band.
In addition to conventional guitars and banjo, Aaron Moreland plays a cigar box guitar, an instrument hand-crafted by a friend. Fretless, it has three guitar strings and one bass string, fed into separate amps. And while Dustin Arbuckle’s harmonicas don’t alter the instrument physically, his style is entirely his own, squalling and raw. They’re augmented by drummer Brad Horner, with a few unobtrusive guest appearances added for good measure.
Given the stripped-down approach, it’s astonishing just how much noise these guys whip up. They hit like a hurricane, with a sound that’s thick and distorted, sweaty and urgent, throbbing with a relentless pulse and restless energy.
While most of the material is original, it’s Little Walter’s “Hate To See You Go” that kicks things off, followed by an absolutely furious live take on the traditional “Legend Of John Henry” that builds to a roaring climax. “Before The Flood” is an atmospheric instrumental interlude that provides a welcome bit of breathing space, and from there it’s a well-paced collection that balances driving boogie-based burners (the Elmore James-like “Don’t Wake Me,” and the one-two punch of “In The Morning I’ll Be Gone” and “What You Gonna Do”) with acoustic romps (“Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone,” written by Ryan Taylor, a friend of the band, and “Red Moon Rising”). The almost dirge-like “Can’t Get Clear,” a tune suffused with brooding menace in its original incarnation, is reprised as the disc’s closer in a ‘banjo version’ that shows the boys equally adept at creating a mood of menace in a more skeletal setting.