Second Album by Triad-Area Blues-Rock Excavators
The band Luxuriant Sedans aren’t out to rescue the blues exactly. The blues, of course, is a venerable, now timeless, African-American aesthetic style and form, one that infuses gospel, rock, bluegrass, hip-hop, country, jazz and more. So — the blues don’t need to be rescued. But what the band of seasoned Triad musicians are doing is giving blues-rock a nice jolt to the system, sanding off some rust from its undercarriage. Luxuriant Sedans release their second studio album, Double Parked, this month, and to mark the occasion the band will play a record-release show at the Garage in Winston-Salem.
Luxuriant Sedans are a rock band. If you appreciate a musical story that can move from and through Charley Patton to John Lee Hooker to the Small Faces to James Brown to AC/DC to Otis Redding to ZZ Top, then you’ll be able to get what Luxuriant Sedans are up to, and how it both relates to and shows a respect for keeping a tradition alive by staying limber and knowing a thing or two about the past.
Luxuriant Sedans pay tribute to the dynamism of rock and the blues by digging up fairly obscure tunes — from all over — and giving them a touch of chrome and internal combustion. But the band isn’t some kind of preservationist musicological outfit. They’re a sweaty and loud rock band, and they happen to be made up of Winston-Salem and Greensboro lifers, players who have been at it since the ‘70s and have soaked up what it means to plug in and play some crunchy chords with wailing harmonica, soulfully gruff singing, and driving rhythms.
“From the start, my vision of this was ‘Okay, we’ll use the blues as the root because we can do that until we’re 70 and we can put our stamp on it,’” says bassist and informal musical director Ed Bumgardner, a longtime music writer and fixture of the area music scene. “Looking for this material I wanted to re-find songs that had been discarded and had been forgotten.”
Bumgardner and his band bandmates — singer/harmonica player Mike “Wezo” Wesolowski, guitarists Rob Slater and Gino Grandinetti and drummer Bob Tarleton — succeeded. Even studious music fans will probably not be able to place some of these deep cuts by artists like John Nemeth and Marc Ford. It’s worth noting that many of the songs Luxuriant Sedans are reviving aren’t from the ‘50s or ‘20s, they’re from the last 25 years or so.
“What this is all about is the same thing that taught us how to play,” says Bumgardner. “When we got a Beatles record, or a Stones record or a Yardbirds record we’d go through it and look at the songwriting credits. That’s how we learned about Chuck Berry or Little Richard or Jimmy Reed. We’re part of an entire generation that had to find out about their own musical heritage from British imports. Blues music had been discarded. This is the same thing.”
Luxuriant Sedans have only been a band since late 2013, but they’re all veterans of the area’s deep and impressive music scene. Bumgardner and guitarist Grandinetti have known each other since they were 12 or 13 years old. Bumgardner has known frontman Wesolowski since about the same time. As Bumgardner and Slater told me recently when we sat down to talk music at Bumgardner’s rock-memorabilia-filled home, something was happening in Winston-Salem in the ‘70s, some semi-mystical confluence of factors — really good radio stations, kids who were unusually talented musicians in their early teens, a cultural moment that made playing rock and blues the logical thing for loads of young kids from the leafy suburbs. This was a time when having long hair as a young man practically marked you as an outcast.
“Music was this refuge for all the musicians, and this town had tons of musicians,” says Bumgardner. “This town had tons of musicians and they were all really good.”
One point of connection for all of the members of Luxuriant Sedans was area guitarist Sam Moss, who passed away in 2007. At different times in their musical careers all of the players crossed paths with Moss.
“In one way or another [Moss] brought us all to this,” says Slater.
And Moss remains deeply admired by the members of Luxuriant Sedans.
“He was literally as good as ever walked the earth,” says Bumgardner of Moss’s talent. “You push him hard enough and he’d go toe-to-toe with Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton.”
The project is, in a way, a tribute to Moss, whose playing never really got properly captured for posterity, though he made a demo recording with producer/musician Mitch Easter, another of the band member’s local peers who recorded R.E.M., played in Let’s Active and who adds weight to Bumgardner’s theory that there was something in the Winston-Salem water in the ‘70s. (Luxuriant Sedans guitarist Slater also played in the Sneakers, the very Big Star and Replacements-sounding late-’70s band that included Easter and Chris Stamey of the DBs.)
Part of what makes Luxuriant Sedan more interesting than standard-issue blues rock is that they’ve been playing all kinds of music — proto-indie rock, folk-tinged acoustic, and other creative blends of American music — for long enough that those influences seem to have had a slow-drip effect on their sound, adding hints of color, texture and style.
Listen to “Poison Girl,” a song written by Chris Whitley with a sort of Springsteen-y narrative about troubled characters and a complicated romance and given a Stones-y bourbon-country touch by Luxuriant Sedans.
Or check out “Voodoo Moon,” a song by the Rocky Athas Group, which tells about a one-night stand complicated by spirit possession in New Orleans. It swings with a bass groove that could have strode off a Led Zeppelin record. Frontman Wezo delivers the lyrics with a fitting nod to Howlin Wolf and Captain Beefheart, a soulful growl that suggests both wells of menacing compressed energy and a controlled restraint. It’s a little like Joe Cocker, but minus the excess theatricality. The band feathers in nifty staccato walk-ups and little touches that can bring to mind the attitudinal rock of the Kinks or the Clash in a context that might prompt a connection to Junior Wells or Dr. John. And Wezo’s harp playing is given a deserved center spot in the mix. His harmonica can sound like a tenor horn, and his breathy slurs, smears and moans up the lonesome-rambler element that’s already cooked into these songs.
For guys that started a band when they were in their early 60s, and who’ve probably each been playing for almost 50 years now, it’s impressive that Luxuriant Sedans don’t ever sound like they’re coasting or turning on auto-pilot. The interplay between the two guitars is subtle and tasteful, with muscle and crunch. Listen to the slashing riffs woven together on “Under the Gun.” The band can slide into slow-burn soul mode, like on “The Darkness” or into fast-moving material like album opener “Love Me Tonight,” which would be at home on a Motown/Stax review. This is a band that sounds like they’re enjoying themselves. Chops are great and all, but all the experience in the world can’t replicate the energy that comes off of a group of solid players having a good time and paying attention to each other.
“We love playing so much, we have consistently rehearsed a couple times a week since the inception of the band and nobody every balks at it,” says Slater.
There was a time when musicians often seemed to sound jaded after they’d been playing for a few decades. There’s something nicely exuberant about Luxuriant Sedans and their attitude.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 12, and this is the most fun I’ve ever had,” says Bumgardner. “I think it’s the best band I’ve ever played in.”
Wanna go? Luxuriant Sedans release Double Parked on Feb. 10 on Seventh Son Records. The band plays a record release show with the Red Dirt Revelators at 7 p.m. on Sat. Feb 11 at the Garage (110 West 7th St., Winston-Salem).