What’s in a name?
Memphis trio by any other name would sound as street.
Consider bands that sound like their names. Bad Company comes to mind, mainly because the ’70s rock group (let’s don’t count any reunions) is one of a very few well-known bands that wrote an eponymous song. And the blues rock act, powered by the guitar of Mick Ralphs, sounds sort of like a quartet of guys who might be trouble. Maybe the Talking Heads, all busy and intelligent sounding. What about N.W.A.? Definitely. Funkadelic, too. Then there are several hardcore or some other kind of -core bands that all sound like their names. But the list of bands that sound like their names is short, although you could throw Mudhoney in there.
Add Memphis’ The Dirty Streets to the list, too. The trio of singer and guitarist Justin Toland, bassist Thomas Storz and drummer Andrew Denham sounds like some back-alley character covered in the grime of skid row life. Dangerous, messy and sweaty for sure, but also possessing some street smarts, a poetic soul and the swagger of a tarnished prophet. Think of a band influenced by equal parts Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin, Cream, New York Dolls and even a little bit of The Byrds. The sound of The Black Keys if the duo of Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach had listened to a little less Delta blues and a little more punk, a little more psych-garage rock and a little more cosmic country.
The Dirty Streets formed in 2006, releasing their first record Portrait of a Man in 2009. But that album is the sound of the band in the raw, with The Dirty Streets playing the original tracks of the record in a club and then overdubbing guitars and vocals in a studio. Local fans familiar with the outfit (the trio is on a regular rotation at White Water Tavern it seems) recognize that sound from their live shows. But the proper debut of the band is November 2011’s Movements. The 10-track album was recorded and engineered by Doug Easley at Easley McCain Recording in Memphis, and the record is an absolute joyous blast of searing-hot, stomping and jumping blues rock. (The band spent some of 2012 working on a follow-up to Movements. No word on a release date for the new music.)
Movements still displays the unruly and barking sound found in The Dirty Streets live show, but the 10 tracks are more developed while losing none of their wild abandonment. Take “It’s About Time,” the song that kickstarts the second half of the album. The tune starts as a more menacing, louder version of Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” until shouldering into a stumbling, stabbing guitar section and surfacing as a funk-powered heavy blues rock workout. Toland’s howl describes how he’s been “walking a thin line between good and bad/You oughta know the way I feel/With the enemies that I’ve had.” The chorus — with Toland’s cries of “it’s about time” — is reinforced with a cavalcade of guitar, drums and bass so bruising it’s hard imagining this sound coming from only three guys. But it does; such is the power of The Dirty Streets.
Movements’ lead-off track “Cloud of Strange” (available for free download at dirtystreets.bandcamp.com) is just as bruising as “It’s About Time” while the album’s title track is where the band’s love of The Byrds’ psychedelic rock first arises. Wall of sound vocals, raga rock and lyrics about “living in a dream” and not escaping from reality — the sound of The Byrds in the mid-1960s — is all present.
“Felt” finds the band channeling late ’70s solo Ted Nugent, and “Fight You” is vicious-sounding garage blues, but The Dirty Streets never pigeon-hole themselves as followers of one particular sound on Movements. What the guys do is look toward their influences, from proto-punk to blues rock to funk, acknowledge that’s where The Dirty Streets come from and then smudge the coarse lines of those influences into their own sound that is primal, soul-shaking, loud garage blues. Thick, meaty riffs; tight-but-loose drumming; bass lines that sizzle and pop; and the bark of an older-than-he-seems blues singer — that’s the sound of Memphis’ The Dirty Streets. It sounds much like it should.
SEE THE SHOW
The Dirty Streets visit White Water Tavern on Saturday with the music starting at 9:30 p.m. Admission for the show is $5. Joining the Memphis band will be Little Rock’s own hard rock monster Iron Tongue, and also Laser Flames on the Great Big News, a Murfreesboro, Tenn., heavy rock band that includes Rwake bassist John Judkins.