Like the White Stripes and the Black Keys, Mr. Airplane Man are a drums-and-guitar duo that play gritty four-chord trash rock, but that’s where the similarity ends. If Jack White is the Enron CEO of neo-garage, Margaret Garrett is its cleanup lady. Whereas the Stripes borrowed a box of Robert Johnson 78s and then parlayed their matching outfits into a walk-on at the MTV Awards, Garrett puts her head down, stomps her fuzz pedal, and dips her slide guitar into a mighty dirty bucket of water on Moanin’.
If Garrett merely wanted to sing the blues, she could have cried about student loan debt, bad day jobs, gray winter slush, or any number of downer details from white-bread New England. But that would have made her the latest, grumpiest Avril or Alanis, and Margaret’s got a more fundamental vision of the way it ought to be, of how a young Boston lady can follow a half-century-long line of rockers who like to smoke that Delta stuff.
But Moanin‘ is really a rock album, one that leads you down a big black hole between the guitar and drums to a place where you knock on the lid of Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s coffin and ask him where he’s been. Even the album’s most ethereal track, “Wonderin’, ” haunts and croons until you believe Garrett’s tender new crush is already fated for the romantic pyres. “Feel like a question looking for an answer,” she declares in a rare existential moment on “Not Living at All,” while she strips the chord riff down to single-string notes, and drummer Tara McManus pounds a death march on the snare that telegraphs the dire consequences of thinking too much. There are two Howlin’ Wolf covers, the title track and “Commit a Crime,” not surprising inclusions from a band who named themselves after Wolf’s song about a cheating lover. His evil suspicion overtakes Garrett on “Very Bad Feeling,” and you know it’s not going to go away. “I thought that I was the only one,” she seethes like a woman scorned. Hell hath no fury.