The Stinging Blades

Tick Tock

Big Hand Records

excerpted from Stinging Blades Clock In by Grant Britt / No Depression /  (  March 4, 2016

 ... "Here to Play" is the Blades' statement of purpose, N'Awleans second line swagger with Fess echoes courtesy of Blades keyboardist, Lindsay Rosebrock.

Bell and company have long been the best regional interpreters of early r&b and soul, but they demonstrate their hard core rock prowess on "Sarah Sandwich Queen,"an ode to a beauteous sammitch slinger in their native Pittsboro stomping grounds who "spreads mayonnaise in the smoothest fashion," nudge, nudge, wink, wink. The Blades continue their culinary expedition, worshiping at the hawg altar for "Allison's Barbeque", advising Northern visitors there's no need to bring a fork for the fall-off-the-bone pig picking goodness served at the venerable Q establishment. Although the lyrics are secular, "Enchanted" sounds Sam Cooke inspired, crossover gospel soul. "Whitfield Mozingo" takes the band into Hank III territory, hardcore-backwoods justice for a meth-fueled terror with a laugh like a chainsaw and the disposition of a rabid rat dog.

A Muddy ode to brown likker, "Whisky Drinkin' Man" is the saga of a man who's found everything he needs in one beverage. Co-writer, Dick MacPhail says he had a bricks and mortar imagery in mind when he sent his ideas for "Hammer and Nail" to Bell for finishing, but Bell whose day job is a finish carpenter, reconfigured it into a triade against warped politicians undermining the foundation and knocking the walls of the structures built by working men.

Set to an Eric Burdon and War framework, "Blues For Dave"is a nostalgic backward glance at the joys of misspent youth, cruising in daddy's Buick with the windows rolled down to dissipate the telltale aroma of wacky tobaccy. "Churnin' Up Trouble' is a Southern Rock update of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild', with a black leather clad, amphetamine-fueled rider, burning eyes aglow, blasting thruogh broken glass and gasoline on a blocked road, leading the way to salvation or destruction.

Bell gets a bunch of unlikely suspects together for "Winding Timeless", channeling Roy Orbison wailing Van Morrison's lyrics operatically over Tom Petty's guitar.

This is the Blades' masterpiece, a body of work they can use as a performance bible for the rest of their carreer. They won't do that, of course - they're too ornery and rambunctious to let themselves off that easily. But these gems'll show up from time to time from now on, sprinkled in with Van and Jessie and the Wolf and Bell's other alter egos for the evening, stay tuned.

The Stinging Blades

Gizzards & Livers

Big Hand Records

by Rick Cornell | Indyweek | December 03, 2008

Joe Bell & the Stinging Blades is a self-described bar band, its stock-in-trade a sound found on the far funky end where Southern rock crosses over to R&B. Call it a trick of the tracks, but Blades numbers that tend to pack the floors of clubs—groovers like "Let Me Hand It to You," "Wiggle," "Tastes Like Chicken"—are the ones that threaten to drag when you're listening in the living room. Much more successful here are those that take different routes, with unexpected left turns a specialty. "Beach Song" approximates gentle-breeze beach music as made by a blues-rock band with a healthy collection of Southern soul records. "The Lowdown Cave" uses a modified "Wipeout" riff to celebrate Chapel Hill's venerable, subterranean tavern while spotlighting three of the joint's essential components: live music, Mouse and PBR. And the charmingly eclectic closer "Every Chance You Can" puts gospelish vocals atop what sounds like a great lost Booker T. & the MGs tune before veering into polite-boy reggae, with the whole enterprise epoxied at the center by a Bell harmonica run.

Occupying Gizzards & Livers' middle ground are three songs with a profound Little Feat influence: "Dog and Shake," "But It Wasn't Love" ("We had a lot of breakfasts together/ I don't remember any dinner dates at all" Bell offers about a relationship of convenience) and "Misspent Youth." That last cut, an album highlight, plays out like a tribute to Lowell George courtesy of firecrackers in pockets and Feat-style syncopation. It's the sound of a first-rate bar band heating it up down at the Spanish Moon—or, as it were, underground at The Cave.

The Stinging Blades 

Slow River

Big Hand Records

Posted by big boy | blog | March 18, 2013 at 5:30pm

“I’m just a no-count hippie,” Stinging Blades frontman Joe Bell offers as a statement of purpose, adding that the secret of his longevity is “don’t work too hard.”  But anybody who has seen Bell lead his raucous bar band for the last decade and a half would disagree. Bell and the Blades have been putting their energetic, unique take on r&b, soul and blues since 1989 around Chapel Hill, N.C. With covers ranging  from Tyrone Davis “Turning Point” to Howlin Wolf’s  “Killin’ Floor” with a side trip to N’Awleans  for  Professor Longhair’s “Hey Little Girl” and Jesse Hill’s  “Ooh Pah Pah Doo” and an electrifying  take on Wilson Pickett’s  “Don’t Fight It,” Bell and the Blades keep the dance floor jammed with an eclectic mix of interpretive dancers, not be outdone by Bell himself, who morphs into a rubber legged soulman at the first downbeat, whirling and spinning like a man possessed.

There’s plenty of action going on in the band’s cover interpretations as well. It’s always fun to watch first time Blades viewers’ heads snap around and jaws drop when Bell starts yodeling like Eddie Arnold in the middle of Van Morrison’s “Cleaning Windows.” Once you get over the incongruity of it, it works well in the song, an extension of Van’s tendency to scat taken to the next level.

But when it’s time to go into the studio, Bell uses only originals, as he did on his ’08 debut Gizzards and Livers and his latest, Slow River. With the current lineup of Bell, twin lead guitarists Dick MacPhail and Bill McCarthy, bassist Tracy Wieback and drummer Ed Mezynski, Slow River incorporates all the ingredients of the covers they do live relocated to original compositions. MacPhails’s son Joe adds keys on some vintage M3 and C3’s.  

“Mel’s Place” is a swampy, bayou country ode to a transplanted slice of Cajun country in Durham, Mel Melton’s Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse. Melton’s harp wails and Bell clucks around on his for a spell before declaring his intentions to drink whisky, shake and shimmy, flirt with the women and do the dirty bop out on the dance floor.

Dick McPhail’s instrumental “South Chatham Strut” gives everybody a chance to shine, with a melody loosely loping around Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” with MacPhail’s jazzy phrasing against McCarthy’s Southern rock riffs as Mezynski drops in funky Charlie Watts licks just behind the beat and Bell’s harp blatting out James Cotton waaahs over Wiebacks throbbing bassline.

The title cut, a MacPhail/ Bell collaboration, shows Bell at the top of his soulman persona, Don Covay style, backed by a gospel chorus of Blades and Shannon Dancy. Bell sells it so well on record you can envision him down on his bloody knees sobbing into the mic as a blue spot washes over him.

Bell throws on an Omar Dykes vocal cloak for “Abandon Hope,” a voodoo-soaked, low crawlin   backwater warning about what life has in store for the unwary or non mojo- protected traveler.

Just like in their live show, there’s a little something here for everybody. And just like Joe Bell, you can dance to it. Maybe not as good, but you’ll still enjoy it.

By Grant Britt