In the summer of 2016, Muddy Ruckus dropped their second record, Pretty Bones. Like the heat that existed in these parts atmospherically, “Pretty Bones” was a fiery follow up to their roots-driven self-titled debut from 2014, adding an even more raucous flair to their brand of folk-laden duo-stomp blusie-Americana rock. It’s rare that a band releases a burner for their sophomore album, the kind you listen to the entire way through and then hit repeat. Yet Muddy Ruckus do just that with Pretty Bones. And while that record went on to win Album of the Year from Red Line Roots, nothing but their live shows could prepare listeners for the grit and intensity of Muddy Ruckus’ latest album Bellows To Mend. The blusie-Americana blues power duo rips open their dirty blend of americana and delivers a full band sound infused with grungy blues rock and haunting folk frenzies. Ryan Flaherty and Erika Stahl are the powerhouse behind the Ruckus.
Influenced by artists such as Fugazi, John Lee Hooker, Django Reinhardt and The Pixies, Muddy Ruckus roars through road-sick harmonies and dirty guitar riffs, touching on the sacred, hinting at the profane and encapsulating everything in between, all to the sound of an infectiously toe-tapping backbeat. Vocalist/guitarist Ryan Flaherty sounds a little like Dr. John crossed with early Tom Waits. There’s a dash of Leon Redbone in there too, but with Dylan’s razor-sharp wit. Erika Stahl, equal parts June Carter Cash, Emmylou Harris and bluesy Bonnie Raitt, is a subtle vocal chameleon. Depending on the song, she can sound sassy, heartbroken, wickedly seductive, innocently angelic, tender and comforting, or any combination thereof, making her the perfect vocal foil for Flaherty. They shroud each track in versatile guitar and edgy percussion from the outset. Flaherty is throaty, raw and confessional on main vocals during songs like “Restless Ryder” and title track “Bellows To Mend”. Flaherty and Stahl’s work is distinctive in that the two never overshadow, but rather consistently compliment one another. Listeners can’t help but note the steady, nuanced heartbeat of Stahl’s suitcase drumkit that is the backbone of all Muddy Ruckus’ songs. Her spit fire tempos on “Everlasting Buzz” to her tribal beats on instrumental “Wreck of the Hesperus” grab you by the collar and send a jolt through your bloodstream. It is steadfast, fierce and unswerving.
At it’s deepest core, Bellows To Mend blazes with a strikingly neoteric and modern take on the blues. Set aflame by the delta guitar of Ryan Flaherty and juke joint foot stomping of Erika Stahl’s percussion, they exhibit parallels to The White Stripes, Social Distortion and The Velvet Underground. They’re haven is the raw and rusty distortions of tube amps, back porch whiskey songs and brimstone singalongs. Staples like “Along The Sun And The Rain” by Woody Guthrie, a relevant and fitting tribute, is a solid yet simple message of “we’re all in this together”, we’re all “a hard traveling”. This grungy blues, rock infused folk is a fresh blast of an unconventional energy much forgotten in todays music. This album tells a story, each song tying into the other, yet owning their own individual tale within. The albums ending track, “Wreck of The Hesperus” is about a ship wreck that happened off the coast of Gloucester, MA. on the rocks of Norman’s Woe. The dark instrumental is based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and is obscurely connected to Mighty Mouse. Another song, “The River” is a murder/love ballad disguised in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The albums title track, “Bellows To Mend” was a term used by pugilist when they were winded and out of breath during a fight. This is a relevant title in that todays world, we all have Bellows To Mend.