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.
Joe Bell & the Stinging Blades plays the Broad Street Cafe Saturday, Dec. 6, at 10 p.m. No cover charge.