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Two more blues-rock twosomes

Two Gallants - What The Toll Tells
deadboy & the Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky

(Saddle Creek)
(Fat Possum Records)
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
4 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: March 24, 2006

Review by Tony Bonyata

Whether it's sharing a bigger cut of the door at their live gigs or having to deal with less ego trips when in the studio and on the road, the trend of stripped-down two-piece (guitar / drums / vocals) garage-rock bands incorporating the country blues of the South seems to be multiplying quicker than a field full of March hares.

San Francisco isn't exactly the first place that comes to mind when thinking of gutbucket blues-rock, but the San Fran duo Two Gallants deliver a brand of urgent rock in a similar vein as The White Stripes, The Black Keys and a handful of other modern rock two-piece outfits. On their second full-length effort, entitled What The Toll Tells, Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel package their often-brutal tales with a direct, no-nonsense garage rock approach. The raspy vocals that howl on the spastic, psychotic blues opener "Las Cruces Jail" and the spirited "16th St. Dozens" are stained with years of Irish whiskey and nicotine, while a sense of melancholy runs through the numbers "Threnody" and "Some Slender Rest."

Eschewing the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am brevity of the punk and garage rock that their music is derived from, however, Two Gallants' downfall is that many on their numbers drag on way past their welcome - with four of the nine tracks clocking in at well over eight minutes each. Add in the fact that many of their compositions don't sound fully realized and this may be an act that needs to be seen live to be fully appreciated - where their urgency may possibly make up for what tends to meander on record.

Two Gallants In contrast, the Louisiana duo deadboy & the Elephantmen are, without a doubt, the single most exciting blues-based rock two-piece since The White Stripes first spat out their own devilish take of Son House's 1929 "Death Letter" at the turn of this century - save for, quite possibly, their own Fat Possum label mates The Black Keys.

On their full-length debut We Are Night Sky, singer/guitarist Dax Riggs and drummer Tessie Brunet offer up a delicious platter steeped in passion, energy and heart, while casting dark shadows over many of the numbers featured. From the demented, hook-filled swamp-rock of the opening track "Stop, I'm Already Dead" to the stomping, snarling voodoo-blues of "Blood Music," which also incorporates Brunet's falsetto harmonies of a disco-clad Jagger, to the moshing mayhem of the grungy "Kissed By Lightening," this duo has somehow successfully tapped into the true essence of rock & roll.

Even when Riggs tones down the nastiness on many of the numbers there's still a magic that radiates from this softer side - as witnessed on the haunted beauty of "No Rainbow," with Brunet's ethereal harmonies hovering lightly above, as well as the country-blues inspired pop of "Walking Stick." Even the acoustic-kissed "Evil Friend" shimmers like a long lost outtake from T. Rex's glory years in the early '70s.

With Riggs' voice capable of turning from the thespian warble of Bryan Ferry to the gothic baritone of Bauhaus' Peter Murphy to the commanding roar of a Southern Baptist preacher at the drop on a hat, along with an entire album of songs that grow richer with each spin, deadboy & the Elephantmen have created, quite possibly, the most exciting rock album of the year. Now if we could just do something with that name.

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