Loud and Low-fi—in other words, perfect

Jack O’ Fire: The Destruction of Squaresville
Estrus records, 1994

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I know I’ve ranted in the past about the musical wasteland that is Chicago radio. There are a few bright spots, though, mostly clustered down at the left end of the dial. Low-wattage college stations whose limited coverage you start to drive out of once you hit downtown. WLUW at Loyola University, WNUR at Northwestern University and WDCB at the College of DuPage are all presets in the car and are the buttons I most frequently punch. Even these aren’t consistently reliable, but when they are, they point up what good radio brings to the party. They introduce you to music you might not otherwise find on your own.

The Destruction of Squaresville is an excellent case in point. I heard the opening track of this album—an amazing, low-fi, heavily distorted and totally soulful rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s blues number Asked For Water—on WNUR [I think] and was immediately hooked. I called the station: “What did you just play? Who did it? Where can I find it?” After first striking out at Reckless Records here in Chicago [”Buy local!”], I looked on Amazon. There was exactly one copy available, through a third party. I snapped it up.

The fifteen tracks are all covers. And they cover the waterfront, from Willie Dixon, Little Walter and Hound Dog Taylor to Chuck Berry, The Sonics and Joy Division. This seemingly disparate mix is held together by a harmonica-driven garage/blues/punk sound that seems filtered through speakers that have been kicked down a flight of stairs or two in their time. The album flows seamlessly between genres with a unifying raw, dangerous quality.

And Jack O’ Fire’s musicianship is dead on, never descending into sloppiness no matter how elemental and distorted it gets. Tim Kerr’s blues slide guitar work on Hate to See Ya Go and 7th Son is particularly fine. More than anything, though, it is Walter Daniels’ insistent, boozy vocals and powerful harmonica playing that shape the album’s sound.

And that sound is this: A really great night in a dark, rough trade juke joint, slightly out of control, slightly scary. But the band is smoking, and this will be one of the best nights ever, as long as no fights break out.

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One Response to “Loud and Low-fi—in other words, perfect”

  1. Stay tuned—the delight of discovery on the radio « What’s on the kitchen boombox? Says:

    […] what it was, who did it, what album it was on. I’ve made some amazing discoveries this way. Jack O’ Fire, for instance. Brit punk rockers Wire […]

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