Release Date: Aug 21, 2015
Record label: Bloodshot
Thumping fight-back from Boston garage rockers. On their return to the scene in 2010, Barrence Whitfield & The Savages probably clocked that it had gotten mighty crowded since their 80s heyday, with a legion of new arrivals (Vintage Trouble, the Daptone roster etc) reaching up to snatch the crown from Boston’s rockin’ soul bruisers. .
Since the mid-'80s, Barrence Whitfield has dedicated his life to reminding people that rock & roll and rhythm & blues are not separate but equal institutions, but healthy branches of the same tree; on-stage or in the studio, Whitfield howls vintage R&B tunes with the fury of a hot-wired rock band, and belts out vintage-style rock with a healthy portion of swagger and soul. In Whitfield's world, it's all loud and furious, and makes you want to dance, and really, who doesn't want some of that in their life? After a detour through other projects, Whitfield resurrected the Savages in 2011, and 2015's Under the Savage Sky, the group's third album since returning to duty, stands proudly alongside mid-'80s landmarks like Dig Yourself and Ow! Ow! Ow! as a master class in souped-up and full-bodied roadhouse rocking. Whitfield turned 60 not long after this album came out, but you'd never guess by listening to it; he can still shout with the best of them, and if he isn't always subtle, he's not here for introspection but to get the dancefloor shaking, and that's what he does anytime he steps to the mike.
Barrence Whitfield & the Savages Under the Savage Sky (Bloodshot) Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Wilson Pickett once sang about being a “Man and a Half”; clearly he had not met Barrence Whitfield. Along with his appropiately named Savages outfit, Whitfield was responsible for some of the most unhinged, rowdy and sheer manic garage punk soul/blues of the late 80s-mid 90s. He took an unexpected sabbatical for over a decade, returning to the fray in 2011 with an obscure import that went largely unnoticed.
Listening to Barrence Whitfield and the Savages’ new album was an oddly diffracted experience for me. On the one hand, the music is undeniably excellent. Like fellow Bostonians Mission of Burma, Whitfield and his band are one of those rare groups whose latter-day post-reunion work sounds just as good as their first go-round. Indeed, it was their last album, Dig Thy Savage Soul that brought them to my attention, as it was their debut on Bloodshot Records.
Barrence Whitfield’s latest is a flaming, yowling, sax-blaring R ‘n B revival, with a dance-craze-in-a-box (“The Claw”), a hilarious take on prison-crossed love (“Incarceration Casserole”) and a clutch of late-1960s/early 1970s crate-digger covers. Staking out ground somewhere south of the Sonics (with whom Whitfield has toured), more Stax-influenced than the Dirtbombs and rawer than the Dap-Tones, Whitfield brings enough fire to skirt charges of homage. The first half of the album hews close to soul paradigms, but the second half opens out into psychedelically warped and weird takes on this skronky, blues-fed genre.
The cover art of Barrence Whitefield & the Savages' new album, "Under the Savage Sky." The cover art of Barrence Whitefield & the Savages' new album, "Under the Savage Sky." Welcome to his nightmare. Barrence Whitfield sings like a man grappling with insanity through most of "Under the Savage Sky" (Bloodshot), and he's not going quietly. Instead, Whitfield and the Savages throw a party -- or is it a fit? -- while busting out of their straitjackets.