20 Miles, a band that features two brothers -- drummer Donovan Bauer and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion guitarist Judah Bauer -- made an inauspicious debut in 1996 with the aptly titled Ragged Backyard Classics. Three 45s stuffed into one slip case, the seven-inch releases were everything a tribute to early blues should be -- they were on vinyl, sounded like they were recorded in a basement, and didn't portend to be anything other than a haphazard affair.
With its latest effort, I'm a Lucky Guy, 20 Miles has made the leap to CD and embarked on its first extensive tour. These steps toward legitimacy only ruin what was a well-kept secret. Lacking a frontman as engaging as Spencer and failing to deliver the blues with the ferocity of, say, the Flat Duo Jets, 20 Miles came off as a couple of wannabe rednecks -- the Bauer brothers actually grew up in Wisconsin and now live in New York. The band was best off when it showcased its singer-songwriter skills -- the Dylanesque "20 Miles" and "Gravedigger," a song Judah Bauer said was "about a job my brother and I had when we worked in the cemetery," were highlights of the 20-song set. Too often, though, moody numbers such as "All I Want" and "Pure as Gold" weren't delivered with the heart and soul they required.
Bob Log III, a member of the Tucson-based damaged blues outfit called Doo Rag, arrived onstage in a motorcycle helmet with a telephone receiver attached to its face mask. The receiver was wired as a microphone and made Log's guttural howls sound like the cries of a barnyard animal. Coming across like a cross between Captain Beefheart and Primus's Les Claypool, Log shouted and screamed hillbilly nonsense in songs such as "Clap Your Tits" and "Booby Trap" while playing slide guitar so vehemently he busted a string early on in his set. Log, who also played a single kick drum and used some sort of sampler to fill in other percussive beats, is virtually unlistenable on his debut, last year's Trike -- an album that features, among other things, six songs called "Clap," which consist of nothing more than offbeat handclaps and giggles. Yet given his manic performance onstage and his outlandish outfit, he made for quite a spectacle. -- Jeff Niesel