Album Review: D. Charles Speer & The Helix – “Doubled Exposure”

doubled-exposureHaving consumed what he could regarding the cultural and historical aspects of the Deep South growing up, multi-instrumentalist Dave Charles Shuford – aka D. Charles Speer – relocated to Brooklyn in the early 90′s and joined the long standing No-Neck Blues Band. Having become a mainstay within New York’s experimental underground scene, Speer then began to express his musical prowess even further, via his instrumental and improvisational side project; Rhyton.

Doubled Exposure is the fourth full length to be released under the D. Charles Speer & The Helix banner, with the band also containing; Hans Chew (keys), Marc Orleans (pedal steel), Ted Robinson (bass), and Steve McGuirl (drums). It’s an album which acts as an ode to his Southern roots, while at the same time allowing Speer room to question various aspects of his life. Trying to classify a project which fuses boogie fuelled rhythm ‘n’ blues, with Greek Rebetiko influences and filthy country indebted rock ‘n’ roll, isn’t easy.

‘Wallwalker’ kicks things off with a concoction of heavily reverbed guitar, some off kilter drumming from McGuirl, and the perennial yet upbeat piano boogie of ivory maestro, Chew. Speer’s distinct and indiscernible drawl, which sounds as though he inhaled all things Iggy Pop during his formative years, adds a pinch of charm to this raw hoedown ditty.

The use of both the bouzouki and baglamas during ‘Cretan Lords’, highlights the influence that traditional Rebetiko stylings have played in Speer’s musical education, which was something he delved into with his 2011 solo effort Arghiledes, where he mixed traditional Greek and Middle Eastern flavourings, with strands of psychedelic rock. Speer paints a picture of self-proclaimed disillusionment; “Nobody wants to know/Where all the dead dreams go/At the end of the night”, all the while entwining his disgruntlement with this life via Greek mythology; “Sleepwalk through this labyrinth of lies”.

The popping open of a bottle couldn’t have been bettered as the introduction to ‘Bootlegging Blues’, where Speer’s croons and stumbles his way through this whiskey infused “ballad”, which also incorporates some catchy blues ridden licks, from Orleans’ steel pedal. On first listen the near ten minute instrumental ‘Mandorla At Dawn’, feels as though it has no right to be here, and was perhaps only included, due to a secret pact with Speer’s and some possessed being, following a long night on the piss with an infamous bootlegger! Alas the blending of 70′s southern country rock, with live piano looping and soaring mid-range guitar notes, alongside some rather fervent and hypnotic psychedelia, allows Speer’s and his cadre, to unbind their shackles to their hearts content.

‘The Heated Hand’ follows in the same vein as ‘Mandorla At Dawn’- aside from the odd ramblings of Speer here and there – in that it’s more or less vying to be an instrumental number, where the band’s duelling guitars finally get to have their time in the Southern Georgia sun. Unlike the previous track however, it’s in no way attention grabbing or at all interesting, and feels as though it was scraped from the bottom of a long perished barrel. ‘Red Clay Road’ is so unmistakably “Southern”, one can’t help but find oneself being transported back to Bob’s Country Bunker, as Speer spurts out; “10,000 gallons of moonshine booze/Stashed in the floorboards/Beneath their grimy shoes”, for some good ol’ time tootin’ and a hollerin’ and a dancin’. Yee Haw indeed!

The title track is slower paced, and includes some stirring and deftly strummed steel pedal riffs from both Speer and Orleans, as well as some reggae-esque keyboard playing from Chew, about halfway in. It also reveals Speer at perhaps his most poignant and self-reflective state on the record, as he admits; “My shattered mind is easy to concede/From these eyes I bleed”.

By the end of final number ‘Tough Soup’, it’s evident that Speer is feeling convalescent about not just his own life, but the world in general, during this honky-tonk charged last hurrah. He has come to the realisation that life is worth living to the fullest, even it means incorporating drug references; “Set, set, set it up/Cookin’ on high/Cut, cut, cut it up/Cookin’ on high/Light, light, light it up/Cookin’ on high”. He doesn’t seem to care about whatever obstacle may stand in his way going forward, he just plans to be prepared to smash through it, and with a backing group as talented and open minded as The Helix, there’s no doubt he’ll forge ahead no matter what.

This review appeared on No More Workhorse

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