Boy King Master (self-released)
Jack White and The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach may be on opposing sides of a custody battle for full ownership of blues rock, but blues doesn't belong to some dude who was born in the 1970s. It's the entire foundation upon which rock 'n' roll music was built. You can't really call dibs on a tradition that's centuries old and has essentially been bequeathed to everyone.
You can, however, take those blues roots and turn them into something original and inspiring. Boy King is not a blues-rock band in the loaded sense of the term; it's hard to imagine them as the house band for a biker rally, for instance. But in their thick, fuzz-heavy riffs and soulful melodies, there's an inescapable bluesy sensibility that informs the sound that the San Diego trio cooks up.
The band's new album, Master, is more accurately a capital-R Rock album, which carries on the tradition of badass classic-rock acts like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, albeit fed through a punk-rock filter and given a thorough bath in reverb. The songs are stripped-down and bass-free, driven by the beefy, low-end stoner-rock riffs of guitarist Dustin Lothspeich. The level of sheer crunch in pretty much every Boy King song renders a bass player entirely ancillary, if not wholly unnecessary.
Yet it's singer Megan Liscomb whose instrument—those immaculate, golden pipes of hers— hits with the heaviest impact. Songs this loud need a dynamic singer to properly lead them, and with her soulful, commanding vocal style, Liscomb more than lives up to the task. On a song like "The Fall," her voice pretty closely resembles that of Sleater-Kinney frontwoman Corin Tucker, which is fitting, since the band often comes across like a mixture of S-K and Sabbath. And on "Get Ugly," she shows off a vast range, her restrained moments as impressive as those in which she reaches full intensity.
For Boy King, blues is just the starting point, rather than the destination, but that initial push takes them to some cool stops along the way, whether it's the laid-back grooves of "My Fire Blues" or the heavy riffs of "11 Minutes." Blues may not belong to Boy King, but damned if they don't own it.