Bound to Meet the Devil
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
There aren’t many unknown artists who get to record their debut albums partially at Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studios with legends such as keyboardist Spooner Oldham, guitarist Greg Leisz and fiddler Sara Watkins sitting in. But, there aren’t many new singers as impressive as Julie Rhodes either.
Plucked from the audience at a Jonah Tolchin show in Providence, Rhode Island by Tolchin’s opening act was the unlikely start to Rhodes’ first release. With a voice that mixes the grit of Susan Tedeschi, the sass of Janis Joplin, the slinky qualities of Billie Holiday and the subtlety of Norah Jones, Rhodes combines bluegrass (“Skyscraper Blues”), folk/country (“End of the Line”), raw Delta blues (“Grinnin’ in Your Face”), gospel infused rock (“Faith”) with more soul and self-confidence than seems possible for a new act. She kills it on every track.
Everything here is dragged through the swamp, but when she rocks out on the blues-soaked stompers like “Collector Man” and the spirited, swaggering opening “In Your Garden,” it’s obvious Rhodes has the talent and poise to appeal to the same audience that quickly gravitated to the gutsy R&B/rock of the Alabama Shakes.
It doesn’t hurt having Tolchin as co-producer (along with Rhodes) to keep the sound raw, rugged but clean enough for mass consumption. And the key supporting players help bring her sound to fruition. Between songs that feel fresh yet lived in, and Rhodes’ sure sense of restraint that maintains taut control of her attack, this is a debut most musicians strive for.
Between churchy country ballads like “See the Sun” that you’ll sing along with after the first spin, the gritty blues harp-infused riff rocking “Holes” (whose lyrics provide the disc with its ominous title), the Tower of Power-styled funk of “Hurricane” and sultry/sassy fare such as the closing all acoustic double-entendre “Key Won’t Unlock My Door,” Rhodes covers a wide musical swath. But she weaves genres together seamlessly with her tough, plucky voice and just enough attitude to make it clear she’s the real deal and this is just the promising start of a career that, with luck and good management, promises great things to come.