Album Review: Doubled Exposure by D. Charles Speer & the Helix
Very Good, Based on 7 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
It's difficult, and maybe even pointless, to try to pin D. Charles Speer (the recording name of Dave Shuford of the No-Neck Blues Band) into a musical genre. Americana fits, perhaps, if it's the kind of Americana that finds a Southern boy from Georgia relocated to Brooklyn and under the spell of Greek mythology, music, and instruments. Speer and his band the Helix mix blues riffs with country two-step boogie shuffles, tinges of discordant jazz, Greek drones, and an independent spirit into a clanging stew that somehow remains honky tonk even as it veers off into space.
Although D. Charles Speer & The Helix hail from Brooklyn, Doubled Exposure resembles the soundtrack to an existentialist Greek wedding set in the deepest recesses of a Tennessee backwater; and I mean that in the best way possible. Its consolidation of antiquated and contemporary music is generally inventive, occasionally poignant and always entertaining.
If you’re looking for a handy pigeonhole, then D Charles Speer probably isn’t the sort of person you’re going to handily fit into one. Speer, otherwise known as David Charles Shuford, has hopped from one genre to another during his long career. As well being a key member of Brooklyn’s No Neck Blues Band, he’s explored traditional Greek music on his solo album Arghiledes, while his band The Helix have released a string of albums combining blues, folk and Americana influences.
Dave Charles Shuford has called New York home since the early 90s, when he emigrated from the South and joined up with likeminded experimentalists in the improvisation-driven No-Neck Blues Band. In the last several years Shuford has reclaimed his Georgia roots by inhabiting the alter ego of D. Charles Speer, frontman of a band he calls the Helix. As No-Neck has grown quieter the past few years, the Speer persona seems to be growing in its creative influence on Shuford.
D. Charles Speer & the Helix — Doubled Exposure (Thrill Jockey)D. Charles Speer & The Helix - Wallwalker from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.In the days of analog photography, you obtained a double exposure by exposing your film to one thing and then exposing it again to something else. Once combined, the images became one, even though they weren’t originally connected in any way.
Doubled Exposure ends in a slouching, low-hitting boogie, the grime-crusted, whiskey-tilted swagger of “Tough Soup” taking this latest album from one-time NNCK-er Dave Shuford out in a round house punch, stars circling, cartoon birds tweeting. It’s a fitting climax to an album that lines up tumblers full of many different varieties of folk-brewed liquor, chugs them down and breathes them out with an intensity that could be lit with a match like a propane torch. Here, in “Cretan Lords,” the retsin-scented guitar tremors from Shuford’s solo Arghiledes vibrate against an electric blues vamp redolent of Jack Daniels.
There is always a certain electricity to be found on albums that sound as if they are the result of having all their bits and pieces worked out, both technically and emotionally, whilst playing live exhaustively before even thinking of recording. Outstanding examples from the past decade that are not too far removed, relatively speaking, from the D. Charles Speer & The Helix aesthetic are Howlin' Rain's impeccable The Russian Wilds as well as early White Denim.