Rock and Roll in Texas is alive and kicking. No, I'm not referring to the latest ZZ Top reunion, but to the other mighty trio from the Lone Star state, Dixie Witch. On Smoke & Mirrors, the band's third full length offering, their second on Detroit label Small Stone, Trinidad Leal, Clayton Mills, and Curt Christenson continue to pound out the best dusty road rebel music since ZZ Top was still at "La Grange."
The constant complaint among the Witch's faithful reads that the band's epic live sound has never truly been captured on one of their records. The band's previous effort, One Bird, Two Stones, was widely praised for its tight songs and skillful playing, but was given short shrift for poor production quality. After witnessing the spectacle that is live Dixie Witch on May 16th in Richmond, Virginia, those complaints hit home even harder. The recordings on Dixie Witch's previous efforts lack the urgency and power that oozes from their concert set. While Smoke & Mirrors doesn't capture that power completely, it comes much closer than its predecessors.
From the opening salvo of "Set the Speed" the album's mix proves stronger. This time around the producer, Joel Hamilton, captures Leal's busy but obliterating drumming on tape much more closely to the way my ears remember it sounding when I could still hear. "Shoot the Moon" and "S.O.L" keep things rolling, the epitome of songs in the power trio format. The rhythm sections rumbles along while solos from Mills and Leal fall into place nicely. Mills, in particular, shines on this release. He breaks out some killer slide on "Out in the Cold" that was even more impressive live. Perhaps best of all, however, "Last Call" ranks up there among the great Southern Rock instrumentals. This could turn out to be their signature song.
The vocal tandem of drummer Trinidad Leal and bassist Curt Christenson works well, with the changeup between Leal's more soulful rasp and Christenson's more forceful shouts. Leal does a great job from behind the skins in a rare, for these days at least, drummer-as-vocalist performance. From the slow, almost Doom-tempo of "Ballinger Cross" to the catchy chorus and bisected structure of "Gunfight", Dixie Witch has done an exceptional job of mixing things up without straying from the muscular formula that defines them as a power trio.
Lots of bands get pegged as Southern Metal or Southern Stoner Rock or whatever the name of the week for the genre is. Dixie Witch is no exception, as they get tagged with that description fairly often. This is a hard blues and boogie band. ZZ Top and early Gov't Mule define the band's sound more than Lynyrd Skynyrd. And despite playing with bands like ATP, Dixie Witch shies away from anything too overtly metallic. Call them what you will, but call them a damn fine band and one that deserves more recognition than it's gotten. Just go see them live and you'll see what I mean.