P.W. Long writes songs from the darkest recesses of the soul, where loneliness and fear mingle with anger and desperation, where optimism is always tempered with a dose of harsh reality and a few shots of hard liquor. And with Reelfoot, the former guitarist/singer for Wig and Mule has finally found a band able to turn Long's downtrodden expoundings into things of fiercely raging beauty. That band -- ex-Jesus Lizard drummer Mac McNeilly and bassist Dan Maister (of the influential late-Eighties cult group Hairwash) -- first appeared with Long on the 1997 Touch and Go album We Didn't See You On Sunday . But where Reelfoot's debut was a schizophreic hodge podge of Long's trad-based solo acoustic work and full-tilt electric rockers, Push Me Again is a relentless, all-out assault -- a tighter, more cohesive effort built around MacNeilly's sweaty fatback percussion, Maister's roving bass, and Long's kicked-dog vocals and jagged guitar riffs.
"I've wanted to do this record all along", says the Detroit-reared Long, who's currently based in Memphis. "The plan from the beginning was for me to do one record of simple stripped-down, real personal songs and then a balls-out rock record. Push Me Again is much more of a band effort or a group effort, which is why it's so much better. We were such a fledging band on that last one; it was pretty much like having hired musicians. But these new songs are ones we've played a lot on the road and they changed a lot by the time we recorded them".
Push Me Again was cut at the Tempermill, an under-appreciated studio in Detroit operated by Dave Feeny, who also engineered the album. Long met the unjustly overlooked knob twiddler years ago, when Mule cut a pair of singles at the studio. "I've always wanted to work with him again," Long says. "He's never been one of the hip producers in Detroit, but I've always known he's great. He can get shit a little messy but still retain that warm, comfortable atmosphere. And I've never been so happy in the studio in my life. Everybody there was just giddy. It was like Woodstock -- very mellow, you get what you want and everything sounds great and warm and gooey, there's beer in the fridge so you can just sit back and relax. He's awesome."
Warm and gooey is maybe the best way to describe the sounds caught on tape by Feeny for Push Me Again. A brilliant assimilation of Long's diverse influences (which range from the art-pop calamity of Pere Ubu and Wire to the Delta-blues exorcisms of Fred McDowell and Blind Lemon Jefferson) the album offers a sustained blast of soulful noise, full of blood and sex, regret and reconciliation, with McNeilly and Maister's fat-bottomed grooves splattered with Long's tunefully dissonant fretwork (the best of this bafflingly uncelebrated guitar hero's career, by the way).
Neither fake-blues punk nor punked-up funk, Reelfoot's riotous din -- best heard on the shameless fuck plea "Pooh Butt" and the aching "Say It Ain't So" -- instead recalls the dense, intricate constructions of Funkadelic'a 1970 masterpiece "Osmium", with dynamics that build gradually to a point of cacophonous explosion. Throughout the set, Long's melancholic, self-deprecating screeds are sweetened with flourishes of piano and organ compliments of ex-Goats keyboardist Mark Boyce, who underpins the broke-down anguish of "Fly Trap Lair" and wails like a gospel commander on the shit-talking, freight-train choogling "Signifyin' Honkey". Then there's the unshakably powerful "Eagleeye", about four minutes of ratty-ass slide guitar and molton, metallic swagger packed with pain, drama, and a ravaged Long begging his sweetie to "be my only one."
Push Me Again is both the best piece of music to bear P.W. Long's singular stamp and the album he's always wanted to make. "This is the closest I've ever come to actually getting on tape what I had envisioned," Long says. "It just takes the right combination of people and catching everybody with the planets lined up right. I knew it would take the band being together a while to get it, but this is the kind of sound and feel I wanted Reelfoot to have from the beginning."