Oct 23, 2002 at 12:00 am

Say what you will about all the Rolling Stone–touted rock-is-back blather. At least bands on labels such as Estrus, Fall of Rome, Get Hip, In The Red, Bomp, Dionysus, Norton and Sympathy can now view a fleeting glimmer of gainful employment hopes. One of the hippest up-and-comers currently treading the boards is on Sympathy, until recently home to the White Stripes. Like the Stripes, Mr. Airplane Man is a guitar-and-drums duo, this one a two-gal combo from Boston, Margaret Garrett and Tara McManus.

The MAM sound, however, is probably closer in texture and spirit to primitive garage-blues outfits the Workdogs, Black Keys or ’68 Comeback; the latter’s Monsieur Jeffrey Evans produced MAM’s 2001 album, Red Light. This time around, the ladies recorded with Jim Diamond at Ghetto Recorders. The results? A, pardon the cliché, moanin’ at midnight winner. MAM duly pays tribute to Howlin’ Wolf — as if their Wolf-inspired moniker weren’t tribute enough — via a pair of covers (the low-end dronefest of a title track and the venomous, murderous shuffle “Commit A Crime”). Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Sun Sinking Low” is as compelling and foot-stomping a reading as some of David Johansen’s recent country-blues excavations. Ditto the traditional number “Jesus on the Mainline,” a gospel-blues number rendered with a haunted, minimalist reverence.

There’s also a slew of Garrett-penned originals, and MAM can’t help cutting loose more often than not, suggesting that “reverence” isn’t necessarily a guiding principle. On the ferocious “Uptight,” what’s at the outset a John Lee Hooker-styled boogie gradually picks up steam, Garrett’s guitar chords turning filthier by the second and McManus’s kit threatening to topple. In a microphone paroxysm of existential dread, lust and revenge, Garrett unleashes a sustained yowl so white-hot and feral one can’t shake the mental image of a steely-eyed P.J. Harvey bum-rushing Robert Plant. Like poor ol’ Percy expecting to get his lemon deftly massaged only to have Polly Jean maul it into a useless blob of withering flesh, Mr. Airplane Man’s music is about pleasure, pain, release — and copious amounts of blood running down the legs.


Mr. Airplane Man will perform at the Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit) Thursday, Oct., 24. The Porch Ghouls are also on the bill. For information, call 313-961-4668.

E-mail Fred Mills at [email protected].