Daddy Long Legs
Street Sermons LP
(Yep Roc Records)
It’s funny how an album cover is capable of getting the gears to begin running in a listener’s mind and cause them to begin drawing conclusions and/or forming expectations of the music before they even hear a note. In the case of Daddy Long Legs’ debut album, Street Sermons, the image on the album’s cover sort of cross a couple of wires; the black and white photo of the band standing in front of a crumbling storefront and featuring the band’s name in bright red lettering on the cover simultaneously calls the images of The Clash’s self-titled album and Sandinista! to mind as well as the cover of John Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. The thoughts and potential ear-worms inspired by those images are capable of creating a pretty intense sense of anticipation for Street Sermons before listeners hear any music at all but, from note one of the album’s title track (which opens its running), listeners will be able to note the distance between what they thought the album might sound like and how it actually sounds. That statement isn’t a condemnation of the music on Street Sermons at all, it’s just an observation of the surprise that Street Sermons features.
All of the differences between what listeners may have been expecting and what Street Sermons offers are laid out proudly up front as needle catches groove on the A-side and the album’s title track finds its rhythm. There, singer/guitarist Brian Hurd huffs and puffs his way into a mild but intoxicating froth with the help of a huge drum sound supplied by Josh Styles. While it could easily be argued that the lyric sheet in the song is pretty paint-by-numbers (themes of “Work with one another, not against each other” togetherness were feeling over-used and stale in 1983 and, while reliable, don’t feel any fresher forty years after that), the energy that the band puts into their performance here can at least hold listeners’ attention long enough to let the better-formed and more melodic “Nightmare” (the second cut on the side) sink its hooks into listeners.
…And what large hooks they are. What listeners will find, when they discover “Nightmare,” is that the song almost shamelessly utilizes rock cliches like the “Ahhh” build that The Beatles made timeless in their cover of “Twist and Shout” and the snarl in Hurd’s voice which straddles the lines between “sweet” and “surly” in a manner that everyone has heard somewhere before, but they put so much genuine heart and soul into it that the band will completely win anyone who encounters “Nightmare.” The song is a unique case where the amount of passion put into the performance makes it both undeniable and infectious, no matter how critical an eye one might put upon it.
After Daddy Long Legs reaches the summit of “Nightmare” too, there’s just no going back. The heart poured into “Rockin’ My Boogie” holds listeners just the same way “Jump Jive And Wail” did when Brian Setzer recorded his version of that song in 1998, the roadhouse blues of “Harmonica Razor” is possessed of a similar strain of sexy blues that Junior Kimbrough brought with him on every song he ever recorded and the searing harmonica chops on “Been A Fool Once” completely overshadow the vocal performance (which is passable but not perfect). After that, “Star” closes out the side and could be seen as subdued on the surface but – because of the presence laid down elsewhere on the side – listeners will find themselves thankful for the breather they’re offered before the needle lifts from the A-side.
Rather than stepping down to build back up to the energy levels they achieved on the A-side of Street Sermons, “You’ll Die Too” opens the B-side of the album as hot as the hottest moments were on its counterpart, and listeners will discover that they’re ready for it when it finds them. Once again, the harmonica is searing and the drums don’t stop, but eyes will still widen when the going gets a little darker with “Silver Satin.” There, listeners get a decidedly different kind of turn as Josh Styles and bassist Murat Aktürk hum behind the rhythm section and the shadows beak more plainly around the edges of the song. That darkness endures, and proves to get more manic and menacing with the carnal knowledge implied by “Two Dollar Holler,” too. Compared to the A-side of Street Sermons and the movement of it, “Two Dollar Holler” is a complete brand apart; Hurd rasps hard on the mic and really makes listeners feel lines like, “In one hand and out the other/ Can you spare a dime my brother” – so much so that the last line of the bridge, “Whatcha gonna do when the clock strikes two and I’m lookin’ out for number one” hits so hard that it’ll make listeners blink and then check for bruises.
Daddy Long Legs must know they’ve reached a peak with “Two Dollar Holler,” because they (wisely) don’t play the same trick twice. “Ding Dang Man” represents the closest cut to filler on Street Sermons as illustrated by its unapologetic reliance on a kazoo for a bit of extra color, but the side regains some power with the torment of “Stop What You’re Doin’” before closing out the album with one more barn burner called “Electro-motive.” Granted, there are some sparks of energy and whoops of wind blowing through the song, but everybody knows that “Electro-Motive” is just intended to close out the album strongly; it isn’t supposed to start any fresh fires, it’s just supposed to leave listeners warm before the needle lifts – and it does.
After running front-to-back with Street Sermons, listeners will understandably need to take a minute to catch their breath. Yes, it might not be exactly the record that people expect when they see it, but Street Sermons proves to completely surpass expectations. Street Sermons will make believers out of those who come upon it; it might not save their souls, but it will certainly inflate and enrich them. [Bill Adams]
Street Sermons is out now. Buy it here, directly from Yep Roc’s official store.