Despite the sanitization it’s received through the efforts of high-profile technicians like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Robert Cray, the blues was meant to be a squalid, severe thing. Red Red Meat may not have hit enough blue notes to convince purists that they played the blues, but there’s no doubting this Chicago aggregation lived it — with the hellhound teethmarks to prove it.
The self-released debut is awash in the same sort of bad vibes that saturated precursors like Let It Bleed and Tonight’s the Night (Neil Young’s tenuous lead guitar style being a clear influence on frontman Tim Rutili), but the band’s considerable vitriol remains unchanneled; its ideas drift away on the narcotic breeze that blows through virtually every groove. Bassist/co-founder Glynnis Johnson (Rutili’s longtime girlfriend) died of complications from AIDS in 1992, marking the end of this edition of the band.
When Red Red Meat resurfaced, the bass slot was held by Tim Hurley (a six-foot-five ex-lawyer who provides a nice bookend for six-foot-nine guitarist Glenn Girard), and Rutili had written a suite of songs that — even when not explicitly addressing the loss of Johnson — absolutely resound with regretful passion, while Girard’s slippery slide runs grease the path for the disjointed, uncomfortably numb lyrics he scatters across “Braindead” and “Rusted Water.” Far more focused musically, Jimmywine Majestic opens with a gnarled Stones riff (in the seething “Flank”), dragging the listener on a trip that takes in all the usually hidden scenery the wrong side of the psychic tracks have to offer.
Following Girard’s departure, Bunny Gets Paid manages to open the door enough for other instruments — notably Moog synthesizer and viola — without allowing a whiff of air to enter the hermetic atmosphere. The sparse, delirious “Carpet of Horses” is certainly the closest thing to a bona fide blues song in the reconfigured quintet’s repertoire, while the remarkably tense “Rosewood, Wax, Voltz & Glitter” verges on hostage-situation melodrama. Placing yourself in the midst of the proceedings is not unlike enjoying a closeup look at the implosion of a fully occupied building.