Joshua “J.D.” Wilkes has written books, illustrated graphic comic novels, and directed a film (Seven Signs). Born in Texas but raised in Paducah, Kentucky, Wilkes also happens to be a bona fide colonel.
And a damned fine harp player.
When he’s not busy plying his considerable Renaissance man / Southern gent skills to the visual arts, Wilkes sings and plays holy hell out of the harmonica. He fronted blues-punk outfit The Legendary Shack Shakers in the mid-1990s and saw his music pop up in television commercials (Geico) and TV shows (True Blood) before dusting off and regrouping as an acoustic trio that included his lovely wife, Jessica Wilkes, on upright bass.
That band, The Dirt Daubers, is now a hard-rockin’ quartet.
On their third album, Wild Moon, the Wilkes are joined by fleet-fingered guitarist Rod Hamdallah and nimble drummer Preston Corn, whose fancy picking and boot-scooting shuffles add dynamic new dimensions to the Wilkses’ special blend of swamp boogie.
The disc / download arrives by way of Plowboy Records, the Nashville-based label operated by indie musician Shannon Pollard (President) and Dead Boys punk guitar legend Cheetah Chrome (Creative Director / A&R). Plowboy’s “Respect the Unexpected” motto comes to mind on the Chrome-produced disc as Wilkes and his Daubers eschew the stripped-down acoustic fare heard on 2009’s Dirt Daubers and 2011’s Wake Up, Sinners in favor of full-on electric psycho-billy mayhem and barnstorming blues rock.
Oh, and Wild Moon also features the saxophone talents of Akron’s own “Serious Jass” man Ralph Carney, longtime sideman to Tom Waits and Elvis Costello (and full-time uncle to Black Keys’ Patrick Carney).
Clevelanders can get an earful of Daubers ditties when Wilkes brings the band to the Beachland Ballroom on June 29th. Cow-punkers Mike Brown & The Cuyahoga Rebels and bluegrass banjo bandits Let ‘Em Run will open the show.
You wanna exorcise some demons, that’s the place to be.
Wild Moon explodes to life (no waning or waxing crescents here) with “French Harp Hustle,” a 90-second instrumental workout pitting Wilkes’ vibrant harmonica against Hamdallah’s twangy, chicken pickin’ guitar hysterics as Jessica pumps the upright over Corn’s fast kick-drum and snare shuffle.
The rest of the disc has vocals, and divides the leads fairly evenly between J.D. and Jessica. Where Wilkes’ voice is deep and harsh (alternating between clean baritone and carnival barker), Jessica is his sultry female foil, a silky-voiced vixen who can channel the lounge songbirds of the 1930s and ‘40s as easily as the soul divas of the ‘60s. She’s just as comfortable playing vulnerable damsel as vamp, opening her heart on “No Rest for the Wicked,” “No More My Love,” “You Know I Love You,” and “Don’t Thrill Me No More.”
Watch the official video for J.D. Wilkes and The Dirt Daubers’ “Apples and Oranges:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVA1qSmglhM
Rollicking R&B number “Apples and Oranges” finds Jessica’s rich-girl narrator out to collect from a former lover as Hamdallah’s gritty guitar crackles away. Sung by Wilkes, the title cut bemoans the lunar cycle’s enigmatic effects on the human condition, and how our mischief and misdemeanors would have us repeatedly wallow “into the quag…deluge to drag.” Conversely, Jessica bargains with the devil on the cymbal and tom-propelled “No Rest for the Wicked,” a Robert Johnson-inspired return to the crossroads wherein our heartbroken gal pines to get “high, high, high” rather than feel “lowdown anymore.”
Wilkes’ moody piano and Hamdallah’s grimy guitar pillow Jessica’s sad-but-empowered plea on “No More My Love.” Later, we’re presented with the flip side of the same coin: On the desperate, slow-groove “You Know I Love You,” the bassist’s insecure heroine waits, worries, and wonders if her paramour will trade her in for someone new.
Watch the official video for J.D. Wilkes and The Dirt Daubers’ “Wild Moon:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o899EgWDDxQ
Wilkes goes locomotive on “Drive,” urging listeners to metaphorically (or perhaps literally) chug their trains, drive their cars, and row their boats—like Andretti, Earnhardt, Nemo, and Cousteau. The nautical theme recurs in “River Song,” an up-tempo, broken-levee number that catches sinners paddling away to Corn’s Tommy gun rhythm to escape Satan’s water snakes. “Let It Fly” likewise encourages listeners to let loose and “go AWOL” once in a while.
On the burning “Angel Crown,” J.D. extols the virtues (or lack thereof) of a girl whose parents rocked her out of the cradle and into the fire. Another infant is symbolically squirreled away from such danger in “Hidey Hole,” whose titular place of secretion is the dirt beneath a tool shed.
Wilkes saves his best faith-healin’, auctioneering vocal and honkin’ harp solo for the album-capping “God Fearing People,” which fades in to another electrifying harp solo already in progress. The Daubers summons the power of the Holy Spirit with an impassioned “Hallelujah!” and engage in a bit of call-and-response harp / vocal conversation before the fire-and-brimstone entry peters out.
We’re guessing J.D. and Jessica are as fun to watch live in concert as they sound on the record, and suspect they’ll hypnotize anyone lucky / smart enough to catch their act in the intimate confines of Beachland Tavern later this month.
Chances are it’ll be a bigger venue next time out.
J.D. Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers, Mike Brown & Cuyahoga County Rebels, Let ‘Em Run. Sunday, June 29 at Beachland Ballroom / Tavern (15711 Waterloo Road, Cleveland, OH). Tickets $10.00. Show at 8:30pm, doors at 7:30pm.
Advance tickets available here: http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionD...