Retro Review: Soledad Brothers – Soledad Brothers

“This one goes out to all you rock ‘n roll philistines, all you non-believers. We’re going to give it to you Soledad Style.”

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Genre: Punk/Blues, Roots
What To Expect: Lo-fi recording, high energy, extended riffing, distorted slide guitars, harmonica and vocals, off-key singing (only where necessary), and some slight blasphemy

When watching my brother’s imported copy of “Under Blackpool Lights” for the second or third time, I finally caught on to Jack White’s intro to a song I had never really paid close attention to before, Going Back to Memphis. White transitions into a low, growling boogie riff and stands at the mic closest to Meg and yells, “This is a song by a band called Henry and June from Toledo, Ohio. They only made one 45, and they never had one lesson. Today they’re called the Soledad Brothers – and they live in my house!”

Get ready to go to church. The Soledad Brothers put you into a high energy trance if you let them. They take a hill country/Memphis blues-type riff and lay into it. Their biblical themes and influences from old gospel music come in and out of the foreground, seeping to the surface of their foundational punk/roots, lo-fi sound. Jack and Meg White apparently helped produce this album, as well as sitting in on a few songs during the recording.

The Soledad Brothers debut doesn’t seem to be in print anymore and doesn’t stream on any of the major services. As of writing this the vinyl is going for over $70 on Discogs, though a used CD can be purchased for under $10.

Their first track, Gospel According to John, starts off like they’re playing a live house show. The breakdown and feedback section at the end breaks their rhythmic trance and starts thumping in your chest. Throughout the album the band breaks into variations on standard blues, but I really like when I hear their gospel influences, like in the first track or again in Weight of the World. In the south during the mid-century there were a handful of preachers who picked up electric guitars and led some of the most electric gospel bands that I’ve ever heard in my life and the Soledad Brothers feel they could be aspiring disciples. Rev. Louis Overstreet and Rev. Utah Smith come to mind. I don’t know if the Soledad Brothers heard either of these artists when they recorded this album back in 2000, I’m only able to appreciate them now that they’re archived online with YouTube and Spotify. Even if they’ve never heard the old Reverends, the Soledad Brothers are drinking from the same spring as these preachers. The slowed down version of this type of punk/blues sermon is shown well in Shining Path and in the final track, Mysterious Ways. The use of slide guitar, reverb and their flexible use of vocal keys makes these tracks feel otherworldly. If you can adjust to the dissonance and lo-fi nature of the recordings, these songs feel more like discoveries than creations.

I don’t always have the right mindset to appreciate the Soledad sermon, so I am typically returning to this album for the energy, which they seem to have an unlimited amount of. Here we see their take on punk/blues, heavily bolstered by what I’m sure is a very high appreciation of John Lee Hooker. Cadillac Hips, What Hath God Wraught and Sugar and Spice stick out to me, but I never find myself jumping around on this album. While I may be coming to pay more attention to the high energy songs, this album is well balanced and shows a great use of dynamics in terms of energy. If you can find this album, get it. If not, at least listen here: