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Album review: The Dozens ace the blues-infused ‘Test’

The Dozens

On “Test,” The Dozens fire up blues-entrenched Alabama soul and rock ‘n’ roll.

Like a distant rogue tumbling nearer, tribal toms and ominous, volcanic bass notes signal the arrival of “Tidal Wave,” the opening wall of soul to The Dozens’ new “Test. ” And by the sound of it, this group of six swampers from North Alabama and the Tennessee Valley ought to be broadcasting their genuine, blues-entrenched Alabama soul and rock ‘n’ roll across the airwaves of the world. But that could only have happened in a different time, a the time that The Dozens celebrate in remarkable ways on their second CD.

Although their first EP in 2015 is worth the price of both for the epic “Gravity’s Pushing” alone, that consistently rich debut only set the stage. Any band worth its salt would kill to write and perform seven songs that comprise “Test.”

The Dozens“Have a Heart” rises in the wake of that stormy opening song as a jaunty little number that allows singer Shelly Butler her first opportunity to really shine, soaring as she does with loveliness. Not that she’s anything less than terrific from the start. But the unpretentious, natural ease in her honey-and-spice voice brings both a smile, and thoughts of R&B greatness here.

So does the guitar playing by Travis Posey and Chip Dews, especially Posey’s little rip of Allman-y slippery slide. “Took a Walk” takes it up notches still, with Butler perhaps at her best. Just the way she intones “walk” in in the intense, mid-tempo rocker, transforms the single word into a mind-soothing thing of beauty. But all of this really is the product of a band. The backbone, supplied by bassist Brent Irvin and Butler’s husband, Steven, on drums, makes for exceedingly pliant, unbreakable support. Danny Hocter adds warm B3 or Wurlitzer organs, imperative elements for this kind of thing. The funky and highly danceable “Chase Me” really proves The Dozens are a well-oiled rhythm and blues machine The Dozens.

When two thirds into it they speed the pace with cranked-up guitars, the pursuit converts into quite a rock ‘n’ roll ride. The kicking “Battle Scars” finds Butler reflecting her pride about being a mother of strength, and as a breakup song, “The End” makes for a sunny outlook on what’s ahead, particularly fine guitars lighting it up. But then comes “Some Kind of Voodoo,” another stay-away-from-me chant that closes it all down with stark, dirty-by-the-Dozens swamp-blues of the highest order, and lines like “You got a mouthful of snakes, and they always bite.”

If the wide-ranging Allman Brothers / Tedeschi Trucks camp and their inspirations vibrate the walls of your wheelhouse, add The Dozens to the mix. This “Test” will more than stand that test, and the test of time.

-Tom Clarke

  • The Dozens
    ‘Test’
    Label: Self-released

About Tom Clarke

From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 20 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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