Wilson Pickett once sang about being a “Man and a Half”; clearly he had not met Barrence Whitfield.
Along with his appropiately named Savages outfit, Whitfield was responsible for some of the most unhinged, rowdy and sheer manic garage punk soul/blues of the late 80s-mid 90s. He took an unexpected sabbatical for over a decade, returning to the fray in 2011 with an obscure import that went largely unnoticed.
Thankfully someone at Chicago’s Bloodshot was paying attention and signed Whitfield resulting in 2013’s Dig Thy Savage Soul, a raucous, rebellious return to form. It showed Whitfield and his band hadn’t lost any steps in the interim and might have concocted some new ones. Proving that age is nothing but a number, this follow-up leaves no doubt that Whitfield is as wild and ferocious as ever. Perhaps more so.
Brothers and sisters of rocking soul, this will fry your brain with its explosive combination of Screaming Jay Hawkins, Joe Turner and pick-your-favorite-60’s Nuggets band. The guitar riff to the opening “Willow” is all you need to know that Whitfield and his crew are the R&B answer to Iggy and the Stooges in their prime. Whitfield belts out songs about his manly prowess (“I’m a Full Grown Man,” “I’m a Good Man”) with a power and passion unheard of since Howlin’ Wolf stalked the stage. The bluesman is an obvious influence, not just due to song titles like “The Wolf Pack,” but because he also employed a sax and the same buzz saw, red-zone vocal attack Whitfield displays on every track.
Ballads? Slow blues? Chin scratching introspection? Save it for later ‘cause Whitfield and his crew are having none of that. This is 36 minutes of slamming, shaking, boisterous rock and roll that’s in your face and proud of it. “Angry Hands” even borrows a riff and plenty of attitude from Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen.” And when the first words he sings on “Katy Didn’t” are “she had a hollow leg/knew how to make me beg,” you know this is not for the squeamish.
Whitfield growls out his vocals with razor slashing rawness as his backing band urges him on with grinding, taut-fisted intensity. It’s over in a compact 36 minutes but that’s plenty of time to realize this outfit is taking no prisoners in the quest to tear the roof off the sucker. If Pickett was a man and a half, Whitfield easily doubles that, making Under the Savage Sky one of this year’s most unrelenting and insistent party starters. The only issue is, how do you top it?