Who stole the soul back?

First things first: I used to beat the skins for the above-mentioned outfit. But that was a long time and many diaper changes (on my son, not me, sicko!) ago.

Now, whether that gives me the inside track or puts me smack dab in the middle of a conflict of interest, I’ll leave to the ethicists and the nonrockers in the audience who can’t possibly know just how little financial benefit there is to any amount of drumming on the Detroit garage-rock circuit.

Anyhoo, I’d been hearing tell of the new Dirtbombs record for a while now. Every now and again you’d hear someone talking over a Stroh’s at the Gold Dollar: “I heard the new Dirtbombs record and it’s amaaaaazing, dude!”

The official line was that it was to be a soul-covers record. A soul-covers record as performed by a Super Big Gulp-sized garage-rock band (two drummers, two bassists and Mick Collins “The Last Black Man in Rock” on guitars, vocals and charge-leading).

The result is equal parts the sound of a garage band covering soul songs to the best of its ability, and, to the best of its ability, to translate the vision of its headman. But, just as importantly, Ultraglide in Black is a soul record that brings to light the last vestiges of DIY, garage/street-corner-spontaneous R&B and soul that made Motown, Fortune, Stax, etc., such funky, funky musical institutions in the first place. I mean, punk has met soul before, but usually there was a tongue planted firmly in a cheek somewhere in the mix. There isn’t an easy irony to be had in any of Ultraglide in Black’s thick, wide-angle grooves.

This is a fucking potent Dirtbombs lineup too. Besides Collins — whose résumé includes, in case you hadn’t put it together yet, the Gories, Blacktop, King Sound Quartet among other projects both real and yet-to-be-realized — the Dirtbombs are Ghetto Recorders/Witches/Pop Monsoon Jim Diamond (bass), Bantam Rooster-head (Col.) Tom Potter (fuzzy bass), Patrick Pantano, currently of the Come Ons (drums) and Ben Blackwell — of Hell’s Belles, wait, Belle Isle, wait … (drums). Along with these noisy champs, Collins has recruited Shalia Holmes and Deanne Iovan for vocal counterpoint on several songs as well as drummer-photog Ewolf.

But it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that schwing, right? And an album of covers of songs by such hallowed artists as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton, Barry White and Thin Lizzy (via Phil Lynott, the other only black man in rock ’n’ roll) is a windmill at which most artists wouldn’t dream of tilting. But, thankfully, Collins and his merry band of Sancho Panzas manage to make each soulful nugget their own. Throw any song into this bombastic instrumentation, mark the turf with the Dirtbombs’ trademark minor-key fuzz-bass counterpoint and a pile of drums too high to climb and something’s bound to get transformed.

Credit Diamond and Collins for laying the sound out such that the chemistry of the band, the apparent spontaneity of the playing and Collins’ sometimes left-field, sometimes note-faithful arrangements make Ultraglide in Black a true tribute record to a sound long gone, but not that far away. Credit the Dirtbombs for bringing the soul back to punk (or is it the punk back to soul?). Aww, fuck it — it’s amaaaazing, dude!

E-mail Chris Handyside at [email protected].

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