Even Major Labels Get the Blues

The brothers Gales -- Manuel, Eugene, and Eric -- are left-handed guitar-playing siblings from Memphis who have each flirted with underground blues/rock success: Manuel, under his pseudonym Little Jimmy King, released two albums a few years back on Bullseye; Eugene and Eric were in the short-lived trio that put out two early-Nineties duds on Elektra. Playing on Left Hand Brand as a trio for the first time, the Galeses wander aimlessly from Sly Stone funk ("Fight the Power," not the Public Enemy scorcher) to Jimi Hendrix crunch ("Somethin's Got a Hold on Me") to synthy soul (a cover of the Romantics' "Talking in Your Sleep" that, while better than the original, is nevertheless unfathomably horrid).

Better to pick up John Mooney's debut Against the Wall, a masterfully navigated musical odyssey through the swampiest parts of south Louisiana, with Mooney's leather-throated vocals and whiplash guitar as guides. If there's one album among these five that seems likely to find an audience, it's this one, a striking debut that fits somewhere between the early work of Los Lobos and the recent bayou boogie of fret man Sonny Landreth.

With few opportunities for widespread radio play, House of Blues and Code Blue will be lucky to sell 50,000 copies of any of these five discs. That's a mere penny in the jar of corporate-label investment, but a more than respectable number by the standards of independent blues-based labels such as Delmark, Alligator, Black Top, and Rounder. Which, in all likelihood, is where Mooney, Primer, Rip, the Gales Bros., and the Mighty Bo will wind up within two years.

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