Swampy Boys of Summer
The Black Tongued Bells bring ‘American swamp’ gumbo to South Pasadena Library next Thursday
By Bliss Bowen 08/26/2013
Hearing that a band took their name from a line in a poem by revered Welsh writer Dylan Thomas might raise expectations for literate, Richard Thompson-style wordplay, or perhaps some Celtic-flavored fretwork. But the Black Tongued Bells, who lifted their moniker from Thomas’ “I See the Boys of Summer,” are more attuned to the Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival. They bring their self-described “American swamp” music to the South Pasadena Arts Council’s Third Annual “End of Summer Concert” next Thursday.
You can’t escape that word “swamp” when experiencing, or attempting to describe, the Black Tongued Bells’ music. Their newest album, “Every Tongue Has a Tale to Tell,” makes thoughtful stabs at topicality, most notably with “Long Way to Go” (“We’ve got a long road ahead before we can wave the freedom flag/ You put a new man in Washington, DC/ Somebody tell me, does that really change a thing/ It don’t matter if they’re red or if they’re blue/ ‘Cause in the end it’s all the same”). But ultimately what reels listeners in is that swampy vibe undulating through all of their music — a rhythmic river of Delta blues, Stonesy rock ‘n’ roll, Motown, Cajun and gospel.
When they first started playing shows around LA in 2001, they were primarily performing “That Great and Dreadful Day … Tall Tales From the American Swamp,” an entertaining “swamp opera” of storytelling and song — mostly song, backwoods jug-band-blues style. Since returning from a self-imposed hiatus several years ago, the current Bells — guitarist D. Miner, drummer Ray Herron, bassist Anthony Cook, percussionist Louis Cox and vocalist Mary Stuart — have plugged in and electrified their sound. Intentionally or not, it has made their shows more accessible to a wider audience. Miner growls like Tom Waits on a bender (a very good thing), while Cox’s percussion and Stuart’s soulful harmonies juice up Cook and Herron’s earthy grooves, whether they’re offering a slow-rolling take on Merle Travis’ classic “Sixteen Tons” or wheeling around “Down in the Hood” or jumping at the “Kingbee Jam.”
It’s an ear-pleasing, and fun, mix that appeals to the kind of all-ages crowd they’re likely to find before them next Thursday. Concertgoers are encouraged to take blankets and lawn chairs — and dancing shoes. n
The Black Tongued Bells play the South Pasadena Arts Council’s Third Annual “End of Summer Concert” on the lawn in front of the Community Room in Library Park, 1115 S. El Centro St., South Pasadena, 5-6:30 p.m. next Thursday, Sept. 5. Admission is free. For more information, call (626) 403-4350. theblacktonguedbells.com