THINGS ARE LOOKING UP The Benedictions.
"Americana, on the rocks" is the official tagline for the Benedictions, steady cooking since forming just 16 months ago (more on that in a minute), led by a familiar name on the folk circuit in G.W. Mercure. Their vintage blend of Neil Young, CCR, and Uncle Tupelo adorn their new debut, The Benedictions Play Devil Music, an album that will most likely land on our Top Ten of ’10. June has been one helluva month for the Benedictions, who just played a headlining set at the Block Island Music Festival, which followed an improbable Best Music Poll victory in the heavyweight Roots Act category. No offense to lap steel specialist Kelly Burke, bassist Rob Shot, drummer Mike Tomasso, and spokesman Mercure (who shares vocal duties with Burke), but going up against reigning champs the Wippets, plus acclaimed veterans the ’Mericans and the Wrong Reasons, the odds had to be off the board for the Benedictions. We had our bets on Brown Bird, and Mercure agreed.“I thought Brown Bird would win, but I voted for the Wrong Reasons,” Mercure told me earlier this week, confirming the wisecrack comments made onstage at Lupo’s when the foursome accepted the plaque for Best Roots Act. He admitted the band viewed the nomination as “a tool to help achieve one of our goals, which is to play as many live shows as possible to good crowds.
“A younger version of myself would’ve shunned something like that, in defense of the music’s ‘purity’ or ‘integrity,’ ” Mercure said. “But I’m a post-modernist now. I do things like watch TV.”
Perhaps we should have cued up “Nobody Knows Me Here,” one of Devil Music’s many highlights. It was recorded at Newcastle Studio in Barrington but sounds like it was penned down on the bayou. Its spiked spirit scats across country, blues, and heartland rock and roll. Mercure and Tomasso grew up in Woonsocket and Cranston), while “Kelly is from Alberta, Canada — the prairies, the north country,” Mercure said. “His country roots are not contrived.”
From the honky-tonk opener “Pawn Shop Guitar” to the melodic twang of “Into the Empty,” the musicianship throughout the 13 tracks complement Mercure’s memorable quips and confessions (and he hits a mean harmonica on “Hat’s On the Table” and “Lonesome Tears”). But, for me, the back end of Devil Music catches fire, beginning with “California”; Neil Young inhabits Mercure, who unleashes this straight-faced singalong zinger: “LA County is burnin’ down and you’re just too hip for this little town, drinking your gin and tonic/Your T-shirt is so ironic.” On “Tell the Devil,” Mercure slings warnings like “he better be wearing his Sunday suit” and “I’m down in the devil’s world/I’m flirtin’ with the devil’s girl/I’m runnin’ my fingers through her pearls,” with drummer Tomasso kicking up the pace. “This Old River” and personal favorite “Rosie” are worth the 10 bucks alone.
We know the band members met at a Low Anthem/Badman/the Accident That Led Me to the World show at Firehouse 13 in February 2009, but the details will not be divulged by Mercure. “The story is apocryphal, and should remain so,” is all we get. But the timing seemingly couldn’t be better for an indie-roots band ’round these parts.