Album Reviews

D Charles Speer & The Helix – Doubled Exposure

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 24 February 2014

D Charles Speer & The Helix - Doubled Exposure If you’re looking for a handy pigeonhole, then D Charles Speer probably isn’t the sort of person you’re going to handily fit into one. Speer, otherwise known as David Charles Shuford, has hopped from one genre to another during his long career. As well being a key member of Brooklyn’s No Neck Blues Band, he’s explored traditional Greek music on his solo album Arghiledes, while his band The Helix have released a string of albums combining blues, folk and Americana influences.

Doubled Exposure is the latest release from Speer and his band, and it’s an instantly listenable, expertedly played collection. Wallwalker is the perfect introduction, a heads-down straight-ahead bar-room boogie featuring a thick drawl from Speer, sounding oddly like mid-period Iggy Pop at times. Speer’s interest in Grecian music is continued in the following Cretan Lords, where the strains of a bouzouki provides an evocative introduction to the song.

This is the sound of a band very comfortable with each other, who have built up some terrific chemistry over their years together. If, at times, the jamming tends towards the self-indulgent – as on the 10 minute long instrumental Mandoria At Dawn – you still can’t help but marvel at the musical expertise on display. They’re obviously a band who’d have a tremendous amount of fun playing live, and that sense of spontanity is easily reflected in the studio.

Georgia raised Speer’s southern influences are apparent on Bootlegging Blues and on the country-rock fable Red Clay Road, but this is a real mixing-pot of an album. The aforementioned Mandoria At Dawn even borders on psych-rock at times, as it whirls and swirls through its lengthy running time, with Speer’s guitar peeling off riff after riff over Hans Chew’s wandering piano chords.

Speer is very much in the storyteller mode of songwriter – although sometimes his southern drawl makes his lyrics indistinct, his is a world of dealers in prohibition booze, long highways and blowing winds. The lyrical imagery fits in well with the traditional Americana sound and Speer’s rich baritone is well suited to telling his tales.

If there’s a fault to be found, it’s that there’s no real personality to be found on Doubled Exposure. It’s easy to admire the craftmanship but if you’re not a fan of ‘authentic’ Americana, it may leave you cold. The jaunty tone of The Haunted Hand can prove a bit irritating, and there are times you can imagine Jools Holland itching to jump on stage with them, such is the preponderance of ‘boogie-woogie’ piano. While they’re no Mumford And Sons – Speer and his colleagues are very much the real deal – if pedal steel and artful facial hair make you shudder, they may be best avoided.

For everyone else though, Doubled Exposure is a fine introduction to Speer’s work. At just eight tracks, it may not be the longest of their albums, but it’s certainly one of their most accessible. And when they click, as on the terrific closing track Tough Soup, they sound like one of the best bar bands on Earth.

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D Charles Speer & The Helix – Doubled Exposure