Bledsoe: Get dirty in 'Blackwater Swamp'

In 'Blackwater Swamp' Knoxville rock group Melungeons create roots rock that still has plenty of dirt on it.

In "Blackwater Swamp" Knoxville rock group Melungeons create roots rock that still has plenty of dirt on it.

The collection of dangerous local music vets have been threatening to release a full album for a couple of years and finished release is as rough and raucous as you could hope for. Vocalist Rus Harper (Teenage Love, Evil Twin) shouts and squalls through 14 numbers that sound as if they've been locked up in some smoky back room of the scariest blues bar in the darkest part of the county.

When Harper, guitarist Bill Irwin, harmonica player Doug Hemphill, bassist Brad Deaton and drummer Kevin Trotter cut loose on "Growl" it's plain scary. The band revives the Taoist Cowboys' "Wildcat Whistle" (written by former Cowboy Deaton), further making the case that the song is becoming a well-deserved East Tennessee standard.

It's not surprising that everything the group touches turns dark. When the band delivers Mississippi John Hurt's sweet and whimsical take on dying, "Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me," it's with a spooky groove with spoken-word lyrics that sound ominous.

Other favorites include the lovably trashy "All Dolled Up" and "Tijuana Bible," but the entire disc is so much fun you feel like you've had a few shots of questionable liquor just by listening..

"Carnival Authority," Kevin Hyfantis & the Bishops Band (www.hyfantis.com)

At first blush, Kevin Hyfantis, who has a soothing and mellow vocal style, might seem to be one of those "sensitive singer-songwriter" guys. However, give a good listen to "Carnival Authority," the first full-length album by Kevin Hyfantis and the Bishops Band, and you'll find that these guys subvert the genre. Hyfantis' croon is backed up by a powerhouse of saxophones, edgy guitar, bass and drum.

And when you have happy-sounding songs about adultery and sin, as in the wonderful "At the End," and the entire band harmonizes on the chorus like a drunken church choir baritone section, you have something altogether unexpected.

And, when Hyfantis ratchets it back to just guitar and vocals, as on the lovely "Silver Moon," he proves a song can stand up even without the full group. The disc may be a little long, but Hyfantis and the Bishops Band are a local jewel ripe for discovery.

"The Cage," Angel Zuniga Martinez (www.zunimarmusic.com)

Angel Zuniga Martinez is a guy who seems to have come from a more romantic age - maybe a more romantic new age. Martinez's best selling points include a dramatic croon that recalls Morrissey and Freddie Mercury and melodies that could've easily slipped onto MTV in the 1980s. In fact, the lovely "Broken In Two" makes a good case for bringing back the era. Then there's the sweet "Play," which rambles along with such a likeable lilt that it could've been created by some British Invasion group in the late 1960s.

At other times, you just have to pause and wonder. At first I hated the electro-disco "Sounds" (with a rap by drummer Frank Sheadrick), but for some reason when the language changes to Spanish it became cheesily charming.

There is no doubt that Martinez continues on his own musical path. It's always fun to follow along.

Wayne Bledsoe may be reached at 865-342-6444 or bledsoew@knoxville.com. He is also the host of "All Over the Road" midnight Saturdays to 4 a.m. Sundays on WDVX-FM.

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