Late Great Ax-Hammerer Starts Roots Rumble in Chicken Coop


Eulogized as he was as a rumbling ax-hammerer, little notice was paid to Link Wray’s early-1970s output in obits following his death last November. A shame, as those oft ignored chicken-coop recorded sides, home cooked on the family farm, rate among his most compelling work. All country blues, ragged folk, and raw juke joint r&b, these three reissues can make even the the greatest Americana moves of (mostly) Canadians the Band or Neil Young seem a bit studied and artificial.

Although at a relative low point in his career, 1971’s Link Wray stayed honest and earnest, nodding to river roots, end-of-days fantasias, and wanton honky-tonk women. He nailed down his groove on 1973’s Beans and Fatback, drenching two sideways glances at “In the Pines” in fuzz and fat-bottomed basslines. Wray let pianist Bobby Howard take the title role on 1971’s somewhat lesser Mordecai Jones, and Howard’s more conventional pipes couldn’t conjure quite the same brimstone as Wray’s haggard voice. Yet these records still prove the man a true American iconoclast, one who could provoke with more than just power chords and broken amplifier cones.

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