Drifter Kings play Long, Tall Blues, Soul

From South Bend Tribune, South Bend, Indiana – April 10, 2011
By Andrew S. Hughes, Staff Writer

Only two of the 11 songs on Long Tall Deb & the Drifter Kings’ potent “Diamonds on the Desert Floor” album clock in at more than five minutes.And those are both still less than six minutes each.

In the jam-heavy field of contemporary blues, that’s quite a feat. But for the Drifter Kings, that was always the goal.

“The majority of our material is about the songs,” drummer Doug Oscard says by phone from Columbus, Ohio, where the band is based. “We’re not jamming. When this band was being put together, it was the concept I had. It was about the songs, not a jam situation. If anything, you have to do more songs and really put on a show.”

Not that the Drifter Kings — who perform April 17 at Mishawaka’s Midway Tavern — don’t sometimes throw the spotlight on guitarist John Aspromonte, who joined after the band released “Diamonds on the Desert Floor,” a nominee for best self-produced album at the 2010 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.

“We do have a few songs where we let John shine,” Oscard says. “For example, ‘Who Is He?’ That song is structured so that at the end of the song, he can solo for as long as he wants and then we bring it back in and Deb talks to the audience. Then we end it. We have several songs in the set that we can stretch out.”

But the band also knows unlimited jamming has limitations.

“A jam can fall apart,” Oscard says, “and after a while, it gets boring and you run out of things to say.”

On “Diamonds on the Desert Floor,” the Drifter Kings never run out of things to say.

“The songs themselves are stories,” Oscard says. “One of the things with the band is that it’s about the song, not the individual players. … It’s all about the song and the arrangement.”

And the Drifter Kings’ arrangements hit upon several points on the blues spectrum, from the Chicago blues of the defiant “I Would Not Back Down” and “What Kind of Man” to the New Orleans second-line groove of the delightful and joyous “Chef Jen’s Kitchen,” from the slide and finger-picked country blues of “Lay My Body Down” to the Deep Soul heartbreak of “I’ll Be the One.”

“We’re trying to stay away from (blues-rock) and shuffle,” Oscard says. “It’s not shuffle after shuffle and rehashing an old sound on the originals, but even on the non-originals, taking them and giving it a fresh approach.”

With the band about to hit the road, it started work on a new song, “Do Right,” that Oscard says the Drifter Kings tried as a double shuffle, a Texas shuffle in the vein of Stevie Ray Vaughn and as a jump blues.

“Sometimes it works well in your head but doesn’t when you play it,” he says about its original shuffle arrangement. “I’m not saying it wouldn’t work as a Texas shuffle, but it sounded better as a jump-jazz tune. We do agonize heavily over the feel of it and how the song will sound.”

And out front, Texas-born singer Deb Landolt doesn’t waste her powerful, rough voice bemoaning love lost or fawning over the few faithful men who come her way.

Instead, she vows to give up bad boys and go find the one good man she’s known on the tension-filled “Overlooked,” shows another bad boy the door on the scorcher “Free to Leave” and berates a man who’s abandoned his son for freedom from his responsibilities on “What Kind of Man.”

“Our songs are stories, and they’re stories from our lives,” Oscard says before explaining the genesis of “Free to Leave” as an example. “She was in a relationship, and he said, ‘You’ll never amount to anything.’ She said, ‘Pack your bags.’ ”

Taken together, the band’s lyrics — most written by Landolt but with the whole band contributing — add up to an empowering, confident perspective from the band’s female singer.

“Since we are fronted by a woman, a lot of it does have that slant,” Oscard says. “We are very conscious of that. We internally joke that we don’t want to be bashing men all the time.”

In concert

Long Tall Deb & the Drifter Kings perform at 7 p.m. April 17 at the Midway Tavern, 810 W. Fourth St., Mishawaka. Admission is $7. For more information, call 574-255-0458 or visit the website themidwaytavern.com.

Copyright © 2011, Southbend Tribune