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Soledad Brothers



OK, get this. The Soledad Brothers are a white garage-blues duo named for a group of black felons who became martyrs and revolutionary heroes of the Black Power movement when they were gunned down trying to escape from California's notorious Soledad Prison in the early '70s. There's no irony involved in the duo's choice of name, nor in its stripped down, soulful garage-rock take on blues. In spirit and occasionally in sound, The Soledad Brothers fascinating musical and political identity recalls the great MC5 and the "White Panther" movement they participated in three decades ago, right around the time of the Soledad shootings. There are no contradictions here, just two white brothers who have assumed the struggle for black liberation, and the struggle for all oppressed people.

The duo's approach is a stripped down, raucous urban blues attack that's equal parts MC5 and John Lee Hooker. Singer Johnny Walker has the charismatic squall of an impassioned street corner minister and he uses it well, taking only occasional breaks for harmonica solos or instrumental asides. He accompanies himself on guitar with down-and-dirty rock and roll licks and Delta blues style fingerpicking. Drummer Ben Swank provides the rhythms, which usually come fast and furious, but never without deep nuanced feeling. The duo got their start when they played what they thought would be a one-off show in Toledo, Ohio. That performance led to a fruitful songwriting partnership, and in 2000 the Soledad Brothers released their self-titled debut full-length on Estrus Records. It features "Front St. Front" and "I-75 Boogie."