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Album Review: The Curse of KK Hammond – Death Roll Blues

Yo yo yo, listen up, my freaky little friends! Back in the early 20th Century, before we had all these fancy communication gadgets, we had some badass Blues artists who were spilling their guts and sharing the African American experience through their soulful tunes. These were some brilliant, sensitive cats who knew how to bring the blues to life with their nuanced and complex sounds.

Nowadays, we got some modern masters of Acoustic Blues who understand the difference between the rough and tough Charley Patton and the slick and sly Blind Willie McTell from the East Coast. We got individualists like Skip James and the professional genius of Memphis Minnie. And of course, we can’t forget the one and only Robert Johnson, who took the genre to a whole new level.

But guess what, my peeps? There’s a new movement happening across the pond in the UK, where artists are finding fresh inspiration from these complex and varied styles of Acoustic Blues. And leading the charge is none other than K.K. Hammond, a resophonic guitar-obsessed singer/songwriter who’s here to give us some “Swamp Blues from the darkside.”

Her debut full-length album, Death Roll Blues, is like a punch to the gut, my friends. It’s got that Bentonia style of hypnotic minor key dirges, infused with a touch of Southern Gothic horror. Picture yourself in the swamps, surrounded by gators and cypress trees, and you’ll start to get the vibe.

Now, don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this album, my fellow listeners. At first, you might think it’s just some stylized Southern American fetishism, but pump up the volume and give it a second and third listen, and you’ll start to unlock its secrets. Those interlocked guitar parts are like layers of harmony and complexity that’ll blow your mind. Hammond’s voice goes from tender and vulnerable to sneering and brash, and even horrified and traumatized. It’s like she’s using the Southern Gothic imagery as a tool for her own self-expression, and it’s pure sorcery, my friends.

One of the standout tracks on Death Roll Blues is “Anhedonia,” a slow bruising tune that tackles modern headlines with a haunting chorus. Mama says she was never happy, always blue, but she’s got her codeine to keep her going. It’s a powerful juxtaposition that brings the political and personal together, especially in these post-COVID times when the world is on fire.

But let’s not forget the spooky side of this album, my fiends. The title track, featuring David & the Devil’s gravelly background vocals, is like a trip into the dark side. It opens with a modern guitar figure that’s straight-up bizzaro, reminiscent of a twisted music box. Then it kicks into a clapping stomping call and response that’ll give you chills. And when that fragile and quivering chorus comes in, damn, it’s like a curse that knows your name, creeping into your soul.

Now, let me tell you, Death Roll Blues is as British as it gets. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, it’s got that legendary vibe. But what K.K. Hammond does with the Acoustic Blues, with the clichés and tropes, is uniquely British. She filters American culture through her own European/British lens, and the result is something fresh, reverent, and absolutely vital. This album is just the beginning, my friends. The Curse of K.K. Hammond is upon us, and we better watch out because she’s about to blow the roof off this blues house!

–Howard Burns

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