It would be easy to call Dirty Deep a blues rock band, as indeed I did above, but this fifth album by them is a magnificently versatile affair and, while it's all built on the blues, it also ventures into a lot of other realms. The other common threads are a simplicity of approach, which sometimes has them sound like a garage rock band recording in one blissful take, and a rough attitude, which has the effect of lending them an edge of punk and outlaw country.
Given that, I'm not sure if Broken Bones is a good opener or not. It's a good song, but it's a teaser of some of what's to come rather than a stormer to grab us in. It stubbornly refuses to speed up to the tempo it could easily be played at, but it sets a tasty tone and there's an emotional harmonica pleading with us to stay the course. It begins beautifully, a solo voice over chords so quiet we have to stretch to hear them but which build until the song explodes into action.
There are up tempo songs here, most obviously Shoot First, which absolutely blisters along, as if a band happy to shuffle along in third gear suddenly find top gear and, liking the sensation, floor it. It's garage rock with a serious punk attitude, though it never quite loses the blues, especially with another tasty harmonica solo from guitarist and lead vocalist Victor Sbrovazzo. It's a song to take your breath away and it stands out all the more at the heart of the album, a seventh out of fifteen tracks, because of the two around it.
Before it is From Tears, an acoustic ballad that's sweet and open and embracing. This is Dirty Deep playing the blues with a folky country vibe. It's a beautiful song and a subtle one, moving as much through swells of what I presume are keyboards doing the job of strings as anything else. There is a drummer in the band, Geoffroy Sourp, but he doesn't do anything on this one, unless he also has a responsibility behind the keyboards. What rhythm the song has comes from its guitar.
After it is Donoma, easily the tastiest piece on the album but another subtle one. It takes over a minute to conjure up an atmosphere with what sounds like a cello, then effortlessly turns into the sort of progressive roots song that we might not expect on an album so buried in the simplicity of garage rock and especially after the blitzkrieg that is Shoot First. However, it's here and it shines a bright light with plenty of gospel in it. These are three thoroughly different songs but each is well worth your attention because they're all highlights.
While I'm all about the middle of this album, the half before it is a notch above the one after, but I wouldn't divide them quite like that. The first has Juke Joint Preaching, a laid back number in the style of the Black Crowes with all sorts of little touches that sell it more than the big sweep. It has Don't Be Cruel, which follows suit but also finds a mellow vibe midway with a saxophone. It has the wonderful instrumental harmonica interlude called Hipbreak III, a tease of a shift into a stalker of a song in What Really Matters with Sbrovazzo roaring out his lyrics.
So the first side is strong, but the second has Your Name with an almost reggae beat, a light touch compared to so many songs that have a semblance of darkness to them. It has Hold On Me, a truly back to basics garage rock stomp to stir the blood. It sounds like Sourp only has one drum on this one but he's especially happy to beat the crap out of it just for us. It also has Waiting for a Train, a brief country song that even finds room for a yodel, and a slow, extra laid back closer in Medicine Man, driven by a sparing slide guitar, which combines impeccably with a sparing harmonica. However, it also has a song called Never Too Late that's just there, a routine blues rocker with alternative touches.
The result is an excellent and sublimely surprising album. I haven't heard Dirty Deep before, but I have every intention of hearing them again. It's been a while since they released an album, though they did get through the COVID years with an album of raw unplugged sessions and a mini-album of odd covers, each featuring a different guest. It's been five years since Tillandsia in 2018, but the first four arrived in only seven. Here's to hoping they're back on a regular sort of schedule with an admirable versatility ready to roll into future material.