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It’s silent, the lull before the Detroit Cobras’ 19-minute EP, Seven Easy Pieces—at least until the quiet is broken by a zipper migrating south. And just after the zipper reveals something, Rachel Nagy—surprised, coy, and confident in what’s to come—purrs “very nice.” Through the zipper we enter a crepuscular scene, somewhere between zipped down and zipped up, where a hulking voice dictates the tempo and spits out soulful butane-tinged riffs. She growls, she bites, she screams, she sings like a hyena in heat, on fire in the middle of the sun. Nagy and guitarist Mary Restrepo play with the urgency of a Prohibition performance, and with the expectation of a full-throttle strip-down.
The Cobras conjure an antique rolling rhythm without slipping into that annoying neo-swing trend of five years ago that put 300 horns onstage in zoot suits and hoped for a cherry popping time. No, Nagy likes it rougher than that—she kicks like a bottle of moonshine, a rusty Chevy pickup, a brass band blowing from the bottom of the ocean. Her spiked tonsils take off where other swans of lust and debauchery have been silenced.
The Detroit Cobras get between your thighs like the Tindersticks and the Delta 72 used to, rubbing and teasing and taunting. “I just want your love when I get like this,” Nagy twangs on Carl Lebow and Otto Jeffries’s “Silver & Gold.” She insists that they’re her words, her need, her contempt. Remaking the Staples Singers’ “You Don’t Knock,” Nagy rasps her way through praise-God gospel, but sounds like she’s singing about an asshole ex-boyfriend rather than doing a church hymn. She just sounds pissed. But that’s the dirt-rolling beauty of the Cobras—they pluck soul from obscurity and breathe barroom life into covers, reliving the kind of aching blues that no whiskey-and-PBR pounding could ever drive away.