"Sea Legs" by Matty Sheets and the Blockheads

by Ryan Snyder

“Why bother at all about Blockheads?” asked Ian Dury during his band the Blockheads’ 1977 pint-powered rattletrap “Blockheads.” A fair enough query with a simple answer when referencing the slovenly inebriants in question, but regarding Matty Sheets & the Blockheads, the band that’s practically become a Greensboro institution through sheer ubiquity, it’s a bit more complicated. The answer is, at last, the band’s debut album Sea Legs. Until its release this spring, Sheets’ various projects have turned up over the years more often than an unmatched sock, the mate being that definitive album that eluded him, whether it be under the banner of the Slowdrivers, Come Hell or High Water or the Blockheads. The latter had actually begun the recording process more than a year and a half ago until logistical volatility and turnover at the band’s all-important keyboard seat — really, the most essential in achieving the sense of before-the-storm disquiet that presents the record —created a major headwind toward its completion. The piano parts to the album’s lead track, the Gershwin-meets-Lambchop shanty “Octopus,” was penned by Backlot Collective associate Harrison Barrow before Holy Ghost Tent Revival’s Mike O’Malley took over the duties for the remainder. That element, however, hardly asserts itself for the remainder, save for a cameo on the album’s standout “Al’s Diner” and the disarmingly silly “Walking On Sharks.” The album’s maritime themes (see also: “Swimming Pool” and “Three Big Squids”) are backed by the swaggering, seasick tempos; Jessica Pennell’s lovely accordion playing does a lot to this end, but it’s Sheets’ picaroon outbursts that keep the album forever on its uneven keel. That’s the charm of Sea Legs, however: It’s insouciant and unexpected, and like Dury’s version of a blockhead, not afraid to get a little sloppy.

Wanna go? Matty Sheets & the Blockheads will play the Tate Street Festival this Saturday at 2p.m.