Home Read Classic Album Review: Tarbox Ramblers | A Fix Back East

Classic Album Review: Tarbox Ramblers | A Fix Back East

The Boston bluesman's stunning second album will send shivers down your spine.

This came out in 2004 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


Think hard, now: When was the last time you heard a new album that made your hair stand on end? If you can remember that, then ponder this: When was the last time you heard a new blues trio — led by a doughy, balding white guy from Boston, no less — that sent shivers up and down your spine?

In my case, it was a couple of weeks ago — the first time I listened to A Fix Back East, the mesmerising sophomore album from Michael Tarbox and his semi-eponymous band of Ramblers. And it’s happened most days since, chiefly because Tarbox and his music have taken root in my Discman and my psyche like kudzu in the ditch along Highway 61. For my money, Tarbox is quite simply the most evocative and distinctive blues-roots artist to come down the pike in ages.

The first part of the equation is his electrifying voice, a rusted, ragged rumble that combines the best qualities of Keith Richards, Tom Waits and early George Thorogood. The second is his cheap-sounding electric guitar, which growls with gritty, distortion, moans with ominous tension and reverberates with the spirit of the Delta. The most important elements, of course, are his songs, which run the gamut from spiky, choogling juke-joint raveups and swampy, hypnotic hoodoo drones to gothic Americana ballads and surprisingly tender country gospel — when they don’t remind you of hipper bands like Morphine and Firewater, that is.

And let’s not give short shrift to the raw energy and garagey immediacy of his no-frills rhythm section and the lively underproduction of Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson. They were obviously instrumental in helping Tarbox birth an unforgettable stunner of a disc that belongs in the collection of every roots music fan — and has already earned a spot on my year-end list. In other words, the Fix is in.