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Dead Rock West

Bright Morning Stars – 2011 (Red River)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Dead Rock West

Sometimes a record will come across a reviewer's desk, grab him by the scruff of the neck and force him to sit up and take notice. This is that sort of record. Los Angeles-based Dead Rock West is singer Cindy Wasserman and instrumentalist Frank Lee Drennen. "Bright Morning Stars" is their second record, and they've made it with the assistance of a bunch of friends, including John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Mark Olson, and Peter Case, who produced it.

It is, essentially, a gospel record that offer renditions of traditional fare (Ain't No Grave, What Are They Doing in Heaven Today), songs associated with the likes of Blind Willie Johnson (God Moves on Water, God Don't Ever Change) and the Staple Singers (a couple of their early V-Jay sides, Two Wings and This May Be the Last Time), and contemporary selections (a Case co-write, Beyond the Blues, the Jesus and Mary Chain song God Help Me). There are touches of folky acoustic country here and there (a stripped-down version of Angel Band, for example, that features Wasserman's singing accompanied by mandolin and bass), but for the most part the record takes off from and builds on the vintage sound of the Staples, an effect due in no small part to the record's secret weapon, Memphis-based guitarist Ron Franklin.

The results - from the X-crossed with-bluesy Stones sound of God Help Me to the roughed up shuffle of Two Wings to Franklin's stinging, punctuating guitar playing and Case rumbling a subterranean "God..." throughout God Don't Ever Change - are, quite simply, spectacular.