Album Review: Dig Thy Savage Soul by Barrence Whitfield & the Savages
Very Good, Based on 5 Critics
PopMatters - 80 Based on rating 8/10
If the name Barrence Whitfield—soul shouter/Boston music legend—doesn’t mean anything to you, I have two things to say to you: 1) Where you been at the past 30 years? And 2) Take heart, because it’s never too late to join the Barrence Whitfield party. In fact, 2013 marks one of Whitfield’s highest profile releases, as the fine folks at Bloodshot have seen fit to release Dig Thy Savage Soul, Whitfield’s latest and greatest with his band the Savages. Whether you’re new to the scene or a longtime fan, Dig Thy Savage Soul is a primo slab of garage/R&B/soul/blues power from one of today’s top practitioners of the art.
Those outside who've lost track of the rowdy rock and R&B outfit Barrence Whitfield & the Savages can be easily forgiven for not knowing they re-formed in 2010 and cut the greasy, grooving Savage Kings for Spain's Munster Records. Now that the band has signed to Chicago's scrappy roots music label Bloodshot, Dig Thy Savage Soul is solid proof that not all musicians mellow with age. If anything, this is the wildest, rawest, most frenetic record in their catalog.
This is the second album in two years from Boston-based legendary R&B firestarter Barrence Whitfield. It's also the tenth full-length from a 58-year-old who came to prominence in the late '80s, with a string of invigorating releases that easily pre-date most of the buzz-garnering garage punk acts of the past few years. Thankfully, for traditionalists, Whitfield hasn't lost any of his trademark gusto, howling his way through all 12 of the album's visceral romps.
When Barrence Whitfield and the Savages launch into “The Corner Man,” the lead track on their powerful new collection Dig Thy Savage Soul, you hear a lot of history. It’s an audible wave, at once straight and jagged, between early rocking soulsters like Don Covay and the MC5, and every punk rocker that drew from the blues instead of art school ineffectuality. Somewhere along this line lie the Lyres, Boston’s minimalist garage rockers, whose short, sharp declarations sounded like punk but were never far from rhythm ‘n’ blues roots.
Leave it to Barrence Whitfield and the Savages to write a garage-rock shout-along anthem about classical pianist, composer, character actor, and talk show wit Oscar Levant, the title subject of the third track from this 12-song outing by the reunited stalwarts of Boston’s ’80s club scene. In their second outing after a 25-year absence, the band continues to offer a punked up reimagination of R&B and Eddie Cochrane-like roadhouse rock, fueled by dirty guitars, honking sax, occasional greasy B-3 organ, Whitfield’s stentorian R&B shouts and growls, and offbeat subject matter. Most of these latter-day nuggets are written by longtime Savage guitarist Peter Greenberg with collaborators, but there are well-chosen covers like late bluesman Frankie Lee Sims’s “Hey Little Girl” and R&B songwriter Lee Moses’ “I’m Sad About It.