Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Feb. 27, 2004
Boxcar SatanUpstanding and Indigent (Dogfingers) The blues may have been born in the Mississippi Delta, but Robert Johnson's first recordings in 1936 were made at San Antonio's Gunter Hotel. With their third full-length outing, SA's Boxcar Satan pays a twisted sort of homage to their fair city's musical legacy with a slam-bang concoction of blues and avant-punk distilled to its most potent essence yet. The trio flails about with the tight-fisted ferocity of a Jesus Lizard or Pere Ubu, but what really distinguishes Boxcar Satan is the gravelly growl of vocalist/guitarist Sanford Allen. Allen bellows like the progeny of Captain Beefheart or Tom Waits, and he does so without it devolving into a fallow affectation. "Calamity Jones" combines piercing slide guitar and angular rhythm with a lyric comparing damaged women to runaway trains. The conspiracy-minded "Ain't That the Truth" finds Boxcar Satan exploring a creepy-cool jazz shuffle, with vibes and clarinet temporarily taking the place of guitar. Then they doff a cap in the direction of Louisiana with the acoustic, Cajun-flavored jaunt, "Claudine," which Allen sings in French. "Silent and Automatic" is a haunting, cinematic muse on the idea of anonymous death in an uncaring urban nightmare, while the marathon "Traveling Man" and a cover of Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" serve as perfect closing-time house rockers. Upstanding and Indigent is probably too hopped up to appeal to either a straight blues or punk audience, but to fans of both genres, Boxcar Satan might be just the rotgut elixir you need.