By Daniel Garrett
Black Bayou Construkt, Kingdoms of Folly
Produced by Tony Daigle, Dege Legg, Bert Fackler
Golar Wash Labs & Records, 2009
Santeria, Year of the Knife
Produced by Santeria and Tony Daigle
Golar Wash Labs & Records, 2008
Strange men in a stranger world: the phrase, which occurs in the song “Jones for War” by the band Black Bayou Construkt, could be used to describe many, including artists and thinkers in every age. The song is sung by David John (“Dege”) Legg in a solidly expressive voice amid a full-band sound, featuring guitars and drumming; and the group Black Bayou Construkt, with the album Kingdoms of Folly, has made music that is both formidable and fun. In Black Bayou Construkt with Dege Legg are Chad Willis on bass, Hawley Joe Gary on percussion, Chad Viator on guitar, Esther Tyree on violin, and Sean Keating on piano. The composition “Jones for War,” with lines about men who want to exchange blood for oil, is simply the first but not last song that thrusts us into the force and fury of recent times, of contemporary life. (Michael Juan Nunez provides slide guitar on “Jones for War.”) As I listened to the songs that followed—“In Search of…,” which has a particularly good vocal arrangement, and “Way of the Lamb” which features religious imagery as well as curses, and “Last Man Out of Babylon” and “Lonely Street”—I found Dege Legg’s voice easily familiar but losing no strength for that familiarity (his diction and intonation are both natural and intense) and the music quenches one’s hunger and thirst in ways one could not have expected. “Lonely Street” asks “Can you ever love again?” and “The Greater Good” has a firm rhythmic groove, making vivid a world of emotion, and it is followed by “Killing Time” and then “Movin’ On,” which sounds like punk rockabilly and has a soulful chant for a chorus. “Love Song for the Hated”—an interesting, even perverse ideal; and its melody seems to evolve out of genuine expression, out of emotion. “Bombs Away” reminded me of Springsteen, with its talk of a wasteland, and recollection of a conversation, with biblical references, and simple rhythms. “Streets of No End” achieves a believable conviction, and sustains it; and “All the Kings Men” has a warm, wise sound. The lyric idea of “Do You Want Me?” and its tone and melody all work together, as with much here. “The Last Laugh” is somewhat meditative, a little like one of the Allman Brothers longer songs. “Black Is The Night” is slow, nearly ritualistic, and ends with the sound of thunder and rain.
Dege Legg, as lyricist and guitarist as well as singer, is the prime mover behind Black Bayou Construkt, but it is not his only project: a journalist for a Louisiana local culture publication, he is also a leading member of Santeria, which produced the album Year of the Knife. On the evidence presented in Santeria’s Year of the Knife and Black Bayou Construkt’s Kingdoms of Folly, it is easy to conclude that Dege Legg is a musician who writes, rather than a writer who makes music, and he has an instinct for creating something both attractive and significant, and a firm control of musical dynamics. Legg is joined in Santeria by guitarist Primo, bassist Chad Willis, and the very good drummer Krishna Kasturi. There seems a sonic preference for heaviness over lightness but Legg’s voice creates something human, intimate, and vulnerable within a large—fast, loud, persuasive—sound. Santeria’s song “Mexico” reminds me of Neil Young in its descriptions and rhythm, and “Hwy to the Morning Star” has a country blues twang, and “Can You Dream?” has an unusual rhythm and the singer’s voice bellows similar to Bono, increasing the song’s resemblance to something by U2. The theme of commitment-versus-sex is explored in “You Got What I Need,” which may be a timeless subject for rock music. The album also contains some poetic interpolations and ends with a ballad. However, I did not think there was enough variety in the pacing or volume of Santeria’s Year of the Knife, which can seem raw and rough in attitude and energy though not in musicianship: the band sounds more driven by rhythm and volume than Black Bayou Construkt with Kingdoms of Folly, which is able to maintain a strong sense of melody and a surprisingly seductive tone. Yet, both are impressive albums to differing degrees.
Daniel Garrett, born in Louisiana and a longtime resident of New York, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, was an intern at Africa Report, poetry editor for the male feminist Changing Men, founded the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, wrote about painter Henry Tanner, Edward Bannister, and Reginald Madison for Art & Antiques, organized the first interdepartmental environmental justice meeting at Audubon, wrote about fiction and poetry for World Literature Today, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and American Book Review, and about international film for Offscreen and Cinetext, and has done music reviews that constitute a history of popular music for The Compulsive Reader. He has been working on a fiction project, A Stranger on Earth. Daniel Garrett’s web log at Blogger.com, focused on culture and society, is called “City and Country, Boy and Man.” His e-mail addresses are D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com and firstname.lastname@example.org