Just the thought of Holy Water suggests everything right. Leader Rob Robinson christened his nine-piece Nashville-based ensemble after he heard that blues luminary Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown referred to someone as “heavydrunk.” The jibe stuck with Robinson, along with the music he grew up on in Louisiana, and the ribs he smokes as the owner of the old Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee.
Gushing from a deep wellspring of talent and experiences, Robinson and HeavyDrunk combine a tangle of roots into their killer music. Blues, gospel, jazz, and soul all feed the songs, but with distinctive attitude and flair. One disclaimer: Robinson begins the album by rasping to a “Mannish Boy” beat, “I grabbed her by the hair of her head, and drug her ’cross the Piggly Wiggly parking lot; she lost her hot pink flip flop, in the disabled parking spot.” That ugly, but undeniably funny line at the outset of “If I Loved You Hard Enough” signals what’s in store, all of it harmless, superior entertainment. Exploding into a massive ball of soul, with horns pumping and a female backing choir sending out alarms, the song begins a rich, Southeastern journey in music.
Alongside supple guitar and on a prickly bed of brass, Robinson relates the vivid imagery of “Walking to the Mission in the Rain” as if Tom Waits, having gulped a pint of Hadacol and honey. The pace then slows for “Heavydrunk Holywater,” a mournful tale inspired by Robinson’s grandmother, who played piano in a Baptist church until she passed at 85. Stout and strutting, “Keeping Up with the Kid” cheers a musician’s credo, and name drops Duane Allman and Stevie Ray Vaughan as metaphors for two of the “kids.” The band damn near out-Stones the Stones on the ultra-funky “Slave,” a left-field home run from the Jagger/Richards songbook. Tedeschi Trucks Band’s “Midnight in Harlem” is the only other cover, and attempting that song requires brilliance in execution at a minimum. The Derek Trucks-articulated, wicked guitar by Hurricane Will Beeman alone, accomplishes that.
What an exciting, soul-stirring introduction to some truly excellent players and singers this album is! Their attitude is matched by their panache.