Penrose: Excellent Original Dark Blues/Rock from Philly

by delarue

There’s only one thing better than a great, original band: a free download from a great, original band, and that’s what dark Philadelphia blues/garage rockers Penrose have to offer. A power trio made up of three brothers – Dan Murphy on guitar and keys, with his siblings Pat on bass and Tom on drums – put out the album, titled Devil’s Grip, just over a year ago. They also have a surprisingly quiet, creepy noir acoustic single, Tango with Lucy out as well. Both are streaming and downloadable for free at their Bandcamp site. As you would expect from a band of this quality, Penrose get good gigs in their hometown (their next is February 3 at World Cafe Live); audiences outside of Philly deserve to know about them as well.

While blues isn’t the first style of music you’d think a band this unique would play, blues is the underpinning of just about everything here. Many styles of blues – from the hypnotic R.L. Burnside-style Mississippi hill country shuffle that kicks off the album, through the epic suite that closes it, an update on the old story of Stagger Lee and Billy that burns through a bluesmetal boogie, a Riders on the Storm electric piano interlude, references to Neil Young and maybe the Chrome Cranks, with a snarling, Freddie King-style guitar solo out. In case you’re wondering, these guys really know their blues.

But that’s only part of the picture. Several of the songs have a 13th Floor Elevators-influenced garage rock menace, while a couple of the slower numbers have concisely snarling, chromatically-fueled Black Sabbath-style riffage, but with more nimble rhythm and guitar that’s more machete than sledgehammer. The raw sonics, with a wall of echo on the vocals and dirty, lo-fi distortion from the guitar, fit the songs perfectly. The best one is the strangely titled Paper Clips & Rubberbands, a haunting, swaying, minor-key number with a burning, sustained Albert King guitar feel and an apocalyptic lyric. “Found the cache beside the road” – or is it cash lying there on the shoulder instead? “There ain’t nothing here to come home to, only fear,” is the final turnaround before an unexpected diversion into a funk groove, guitar and piano riffing their way out angrily.

Another minor blues, Crooked Teeth seems to be about the evils of alcohol, and has a killer, spot-on, savagely simple guitar solo. Look Past the Sky is a brooding soul song, like the Elevators covering Bobby Bland. Driven by fuzztone bass, Snowstorm builds menace up to another screaming guitar solo, a stark contrast with Fly, an escape anthem that starts out slow and Sabbath-y before wandering into unexpectedly warm Hendrix Hey Joe territory. Did these guys ever listen to early 70s heavy boogie bands like Bloodrock? That wouldn’t be a surprise. They follow that by revisiting a similar proto-metal vibe with the slowly pulsing Austin, then do a vigorous bluespunk take on Son House’s Death Letter Blues. If you like blues, or the dark side of soul music, or dark, heavy rock in general, do yourself a favor, download this and then go see them the next time you’re in Philly. Or see them at the Bitter End this Sunday, 1/28 at 9 PM.

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