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Unfussy Blues Enthusiasts Mount Carmel Hit Hartford's Arch Street Tavern on July 19

Mount Carmel w/ The Hold Steady and Fang Island. $18, 8 p.m., July 19. Arch Street Tavern, 85 Arch St., Hartford, archstreettavern.com

The dudes in Mount Carmel make playing dirty blues rock sound unfathomably effortless, as if it's an activity that requires no more energy on their part to do than a planet does to levitate in space or a human body does to digest food. The hallmarks of their modest nonchalance — their method of rolling around with Hendrix-era riffs, their dips in mucky distortion, the way they come off as a garage band deeply satisfied by howled vocal harmonies and half-drunk 2 a.m. riff parties — make Carmel sound like their members have been solely committed to the blues from the starting line. But when Matthew and Patrick Reed, Carmel's vocalist/guitarist and bassist (drummer Kevin Skubak makes three), first became infatuated with music as teenagers, the brothers preferred classic punk and hardcore from names like Black Flag, Fear, Dead Kennedys, Misfits and Minor Threat. “When you're younger, you can identify with the aggression and angst of punk rock music, but musically, it's simple. That makes it accessible for you. Being younger kids, you can learn a couple of chords and do it. That was really, really cool for us,” the 30-year-old Matthew says. “But eventually, we kind of wanted more.”

As the guitarist remembers, three incidents accelerated his interest in the kind of music Mount Carmel produces today. For Christmas one year, Patrick received Led Zeppelin's debut record, and its “Communication Breakdown” endeared itself to the Reeds by resembling punk while espousing greater intricacy in all departments. Matthew's second memory is a fuzzier portrait: Someone played him Cream (a band to which Carmel receive endless comparisons, which the guitarist sounds cool with) or Blues Breakers, and he really dug that sound. The last scenario is a more traditional rock 'n' roll revelation. Sometime around seventh grade, he was watching VH1 when he caught a Stevie Ray Vaughan blues solo. “I remember being like, 'I have to learn how to do that; I just have to know,'” Matthew says. “He was able to play from somewhere else, like he was playing from his soul, not just his body, y'know.”

These events were crucial to the creation of his Columbus, Ohio-based band some four years ago. The Reeds had played together before Carmel (their tastes have always naturally synchronized), but this is their first serious project. In describing their sound's specifics, Matthew says that he doesn't really employ pedals often. His is a “poor man's take” on “the Blues Breakers tone — sort of a natural breakup, more like a buttery tone. It's not so staticky; it's a little smoother.”

Blues rock is one of the most used idioms in the entire rock spectrum, as titans of decades past through contemporary stars, no-name bar bands and everyone in between have played on, added to and taken from it. Still, the guitarist believes there's something special about his band, even as he has trouble articulating the differences. Even with their frequent blues progressions, their timing is always “a little different,” and they focus on accomplishing what initially feels right. “We're original in the sense we're doing something in a time where the style of what we're doing is, for the most part, lost. We do it with a total honesty, and I think that that's where real originality comes from. You have to be honest,” he says, showing how some basic punk values infiltrate his work, even after he's mentioned he and his brother listened to funk, country and other genres on the way here. “With everything we do, we always come from that space because we don't really know where else to work from.”

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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