Thursday, December 4, 2008
When Fat Possum added obscure Alabama folk musician and ex-Verbena frontman A.A. Bondy to its roster this year (with the stunning solo debut American Hearts), the Oxford, Miss., blues label knew what it was getting: an artist who can just as easily compose a delicate ballad as cut you with a dirty, smacked-out guitar riff à la Beggars Banquet-era Stones. By reissuing Verbena’s first full-length for Merge, 1997’s Souls for Sale, Fat Possum puts back into print a Southern blues-punk gem.
A decade later, Souls for Sale still straddles audiences: the leather pants-equals-rock crowd and the literate indie set. Too smart for beer commercials yet too ferocious to share bills with Belle and Sebastian, Verbena executed poetic, wild-eyed rock in effete times. Like their namesake, a pretty weed that grows in ditches and carves out an existence, Bondy and co-singer Anne Marie Griffin carve out pop hooks and gorgeous harmonies amidst a racket (abetted by Les Nuby and Duquette Johnston.)
“Hot Blood” seethes with the heat of carnal misgivings, establishing a tone of sensual melancholy. “Shaped Like a Gun,” in which Bondy and Griffin intertwine voices to utter dark lines like “hands are smart and heart is dumb,” stomps like one of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads-crushing salvos. And in addition to such grit, there’s the softer, sinister romanticism of “Postcard Blues.” Had radio only embraced Souls instead of the soulless corporate products of the late ‘90s…