Max Bell is naming his first born son, Huddy.
Play the audio of Rag ‘N’ Bones Man’s version of “Die Easy” for anyone you know. Then have them guess the following: the year the song came out, the appearance of the man singing it, and where that man comes from. I’m fairly confident that all conjectures will fall short by decades, cast, complexion, and continents.
Rag ‘N’ Bones is the stage name of Brighton’s Rory Graham. From his Youtube videos (below the jump) he appears to be towering fair-skinned man that, like Howlin’ Wolf, has a voice that carries its weight well. Despite his proficiency in singing the blues, in addition to his playing both guitar and harmonica, he dresses like he’s going to rock a Rhymesayers crowd and then hit up a football match. Oddly enough, the more I watch and listen to him, I somehow keep thinking that he’s probably everything Brother Ali would’ve been if he’d put down the mic, picked up a bottle and a guitar, and been born in England.
Graham’s first EP, the simple and aptly titled Bluestown, came out last November courtesy of the “livest hip-hop [label] outta Brighton town,” Rum Committee—if this video is any indication, they are avid Boot Camp Click fans. At a short eight tracks, Graham’s rock bottom bellow still hits like a ton of bricks and takes the edge off like good “whiskey in [a] jar.”
“Die Easy” serves as the perfect unfiltered introduction to him. It’s as if the vocals from every great fallen blues idol rained down, were stored in a bottle, and then presented to Graham to drink and pour on everyone’s head. Though there are missteps too. “Daylight Fading” finds Graham sharing the stage with UK rapper Ceezlin. It’s not that Ceezlin is bad at rapping, or that the hip-hop blues fusion beat is terrible, but that it’s just been done better (see also: Brother Ali).
“Bottom of A Bottle” boasts some of my favorite lyrics (“Found my way to the bottom of another bottle/And I love it there”). But it falls into the same trap as “Daylight Fading,” with a backdrop that sounds like it’s taking a big bite out of Badu’s sonic aesthetic. Then there’s the short “Way Too Long,” which feels like its more suited for Mayer Hawthorne or Bruno Mars than Graham.
Those songs aside, Bluestown is my favorite find of 2013 thus far. On “High Heeled Sneakers” Graham proves capable of rocking his vocals over his solid rollicking strumming like Muddy reincarnated. The grinding of his gravelly vocals on the classic “St. James [Infirmary]” (video below the jump) sounds nearly as haunting as anything from Amigo the Devil. And, with each listen of “Right From Wrong,” I hope he has an all acoustic record in the works.
Still, “Tell ‘Em Like It Is” is Graham’s shining moment in terms of adding something new to the blues conversation. It is the solidified synthesis of the hip-hop influenced blues that falls short on “Daylight Fading” and that whole BlackRoc record—props for trying Dame. If Bluestown were slated to hit Best Buy next month, “Tell ‘Em Like It Is” would have to be the first single. Unfortunately, I doubt it would get any radio play, as the lyrics are more in line with the latest from Roc Marciano than anything from Ne-Yo.
It still might seem difficult to make sense of Rag ‘N’ Bone Man. Graham is definitely an anomaly, especially with the prominence of the electronic scene in the UK and the fact that he’s a bluesman on an all hip-hop label. But strike both of those from the record and think about the history of UK rock music. Graham really fits the cast set by prior UK blues-rockers. The Stones essentially deified Muddy Waters and the Yardbirds covered Howlin’ Wolf, Slim Harpo, and Chuck Berry on their very first records.
Nothing should surprise me as much as Graham’s music does. But I’m glad it does. Take a sip, no chaser, don’t twitch.