Myth-making and myth-busting is what the blues has always been about. For
example: There are intersections where roads cross in the rural South, but there is no “crossroads.” The roots
of the blues originate in Africa, but the music did not exist until the African and Anglo traditions met and commingled
in post-Civil War America. The death of the blues gets predicted with numbing repetition, but then is regularly
“reborn” for an audience hungry for spiritual nourishment.
The great state of Kansas is best known for producing “Dorothy” and a bombastic rock band in the 1970s. Until now.
Enter Moreland & Arbuckle fresh from the heartland with their hair-raising mix of stomping Mississippi Hill
Country, Delta and rural blues. Reaching the finals at the 2005 International Blues Competition in Memphis allowed
them to bust out of their regional confines after performing together for only three years, and since then the
dynamic duo have taken their emotionally searing music around the world.
Guitarist Aaron “Chainsaw” Moreland was born on December 16, 1974 in Emporia, Kansas. His father played and his
son’s earliest memories are of hearing 8-track tapes of Kiss and Led Zeppelin records. As he grew, Moreland felt
compelled to become a musician as his only option and began playing guitar at 15, serving his apprenticeship in
rock bands until hearing Son House seven years later. His total immersion in the rawest prewar blues even extends
to his choice of instruments that include a fretless, four-string “cigar box” guitar that contains a bass string,
a National Steel and a funky old parlor guitar.
Singer and harp blower Dustin Arbuckle was born in Wichita, Kansas on December 25, 1981 and experienced a parallel
upbringing with his musician father and singing from a very early age. He also followed his muse to play at 15
after hearing Elmore James and B.B. King, though the blues harp lessons would become his vocation. Prior to their
current incarnation, Arbuckle and Moreland also had an electric quartet called the King Snakes that was reduced
to an acoustic duo after shedding bassists once too often.
Two previous CDs, the acoustic Caney Valley Blues
(2005) and electric Floyd’s Market
(2006) preceded their NorthernBlues debut 1861,
named for the year Kansas joined the Union. Track 1 is a rafter-shaking version of Hound Dog Taylor’s “Gonna Send You Back to Georgia” featuring
Moreland’s thundering slide and Arbuckle’s muscular vocal exhortations. The band roars and whispers through nine
originals in addition to R.L. Burnside’s “See My Jumper Hangin’ Out
on the Line” and Ryan Taylor’s “Pittsburgh
in the Morning, Philadelphia at Night.” With drummer Brad Horner rounding
them out to an electric trio and guests Jeffrey Eaton (homemade, one-string “gas tank bass”) and Chris Wiser’s
(Hammond B-3 organ) presence on a few tracks, the variety is delectable. “Fishin’
Hole” is all sunshine as it lopes along with an infectious rhythm
and a lyric inspired by Moreland taking his sons fishing. “Tell Me
Why,” by contrast, pays homage to Mississippi Fred McDowell with a
dark and foreboding groove that later reaches a chilling crescendo in the menacing “Diamond
Ring” that likewise laments lost love. Moreland’s acoustic picking
on “Teasin’ Doney” would
do Reverend Robert Wilkins proud, while Arbuckle creatively channels Jimmy Reed vocally and instrumentally on the
electric boogie shuffle “Please, Please Mammy.”
Rare are the young contemporary blues cats that can convincingly evoke primal country blues without being mere
dilettantes. Perhaps Aaron Moreland explains it best when he describes what he and Dustin Arbuckle express as,
“Life experiences, emotive musical overtones and rhythms, honest and
heartfelt music…raw, stripped down, primal and sincere.”
-Dave Rubin, Guitar
"..I love these guys... It’s all about
performance and raw energy. These guys score big for me with the gutsy harp of Dustin Arbuckle, whilst the vocals
of Aaron Moreland sit superbly in the hypnotic simple guitar and drum rhythm."