Spend enough time in bars and restaurants around Soulard and its surrounding neighborhoods, and you're bound to run into the Bottoms Up Blues Gang. In a town full of old, seasoned blues men, this relatively young duo of Kari Liston (vocals) and Jeremy Segel-Moss (guitar and harmonica) makes its mark because of relentless gigging and its respectful reverence for its influences. In fact, Handle It
is a love letter to the city of St. Louis and its many blues practitioners. "South Broadway Blues" opens the disc with an acoustic guitar shuffle and some weepy horn lines that mimic a train's low rumbling and lonesome whistle, but Liston turns her lover's lament into a chance to namecheck the city's blues legends: Henry Townsend, Johnnie Johnson and Tommy Bankhead, to name a few. To boot, the album closes with the classic "Drown in My Own Tears" (made popular by Ray Charles), which features the late Bennie Smith on guitar. The songs that come in between offer Liston a few styles of blues and soul to try on; plenty of local players show up to help fill in the sonic gaps.
For the BUBG, "blues" is a fluid term, so that leads to some fun variations on the perfunctory twelve-bar-blues most associate with the genre. "First of May" is perhaps the most fun, a kazoo- and clarinet-led slice of Dixieland stomp. Hammond B3 organ and Memphis horns add fuel to the fire on "More I Get, the Less I Got," the most modern-sounding track on a disc largely populated by acoustic instruments. Liston's voice is both tremulous and strident; she brings a force to all of these songs, rarely yielding or softening her delivery. "If Only" finds Liston at her most tender, and she matches the softly plucked stokes of Segel-Moss' ragged guitar. It's moments like this that serve as a reminder why these two musicians make such a good pair.
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