Boston-based blues-stomp and roots rock powerhouse Ten Foot Polecats have recently released their second full-length studio album, “Undertow,” on Hillgrass Bluebilly Records. A worthy follow-up to the band’s highly praised 2010 debut, “I Get Blamed for Everything I Do,” “Undertow” is clearly the next stage of musical evolution for Ten Foot Polecats, one which unequivocally proves that the trio have tracked down and harnessed their musical voice. Indeed, this latter-day blues trio has now come into its own as a tight and tremendously adept musical unit, and the brand new songs featured on “Undertow” prove just that.
Dexterous guitar-pickin’, feverish harmonica-blowin’, mathematical kit-poundin’, and rusty voice-castin’ tracks populate this album of all-original material, from raw, ramblin’ and raucous compositions to bluesy mid-temp grooves. And here and there they even surprise the listener by closing the gap with much of what lies between the two points.
Ten Foot Polecats’ sound, although distinctive and original, is constructed from the joining of some recognizable styles, both old and new, like North Mississippi hill country blues and roots rock, among others. In fact, Ten Foot Polecats is the sort of band one would have found in the Fat Possum Records’ catalog of artists once upon a time…that was, before the label stopped signing great bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, T-Model Ford, and Bob Log III, and instead began taking on bad pop acts and so much pseudo-rock garbage. Thankfully there are other labels that have set up shop in recent years and have dedicated their efforts to picking up where Fat Possum left off—labels such as Alive Naturalsound, Voodoo Rhythm, Farmageddon, Off Label, Normandeep, Kizmiaz, Devil Down, and so on. Ten Foot Polecats decidedly made the right decision when they teamed up with the folks at Hillgrass Bluebilly. After all, just as Ten Foot Polecats are unarguably one of the better blues-oriented bands touring and recording these days, Hillgrass Bluebilly Records is unquestionably one of the better independent labels currently operating in the non-mainstream music scene.
“Undertow” opens with Do That Thing, a wild song with a catchy repeating riff and muted strumming, a driving drumbeat, lively fits of harmonica, and gruff vocals. Out in the Rain, the third track, has a country punk and roots rock feel to it, with lightning finger-work on the strings of the guitar, fast and steady snare and hi-hat work, and an equally busy vocal delivery. Undertow, the title track and the longest song on the album at exactly eight minutes, is an instrumental four-course meal of a song, beginning with nothing but expert note-play on the guitar (Chilson, if I’m getting this right, plays a five-string homemade guitar fashioned from the odds and ends of other guitars), slow yet intricate, gaining more and more momentum as it goes, and then shifting gears to robust riffage and outstanding progressions, and is eventually joined by drumming which proves just as involved and skillful. And there are other standouts throughout this listening experience, such as All Over Again and Someday (Your Pain is Gonna End).
On “Undertow” the members of Ten Foot Polecats are Jay Scheffler (vocals, harmonica), Jim Chilson (guitar), and Chad Rousseau (drums). This trio certainly brings something to the table, giving as much as any worthwhile band or singer/songwriter in the scene, past or present. What’s more, even though these guys unleash a sound mostly comprised of rockin’ whiteboy blues, they can undoubtedly hang with any bluesman or blues band, old-timey or modern, regardless of ethnicity, geographical location, societal standing or musical training. Ten Foot Polecats are bluesmen, plain and simple. And while in recent years, outside of the mainstream, Massachusetts has been known primarily for folk punk, gypsy-core, anarcho-punk, Celtic music, and the like, it is now known for another style of music, the blues, all because of three sons of Boston who go by the band name Ten Foot Polecats.
You can get a copy of Ten Foot Polecats’ “Undertow” album at iTunes, Amazon, the band’s webstore, Hillgrass Bluebilly, at one of the band’s upcoming shows, and a number of other places. Speaking of shows, Ten Foot Polecats will be touring the Eastern US with folk and blues songstress Molly Gene One Whoaman Band. If they are coming to your neck of the woods, so to speak, you might want to get out to see them perform. I hear tell they put on a helluva show. They will also be hitting up festivals this summer, like Heavy Rebel Weekender and Rock and Deep Blues. Over the course of the past five years, Ten Foot Polecats have shared the stage with the who’s who of the roots and rock scene, such as Scott H. Biram, T-Model Ford, Left Lane Cruiser, The Goddamn Gallows, Bob Log III, Possessed by Paul James, Wayne “the Train” Hancock, Phillip Roebuck, Black Diamond Heavies, Sasquatch & the Sickabillys, and more. Which suggests that you’re bound to catch other kick-ass acts on the bill with Ten Foot Polecats.