Black Pistol Fire – Big Beat ’59

I’ve never really understood why you would have a two-person band made up of one guitarist and one drummer. The form just seems fairly limited. Even the White Stripes, inarguably the creative high-water mark in this particular subgenre, couldn’t sustain that basic set-up for more than a few albums before adding in other instruments. Sometimes you get an artist like the Japandroids who are able to craft masterpieces with their minimalism, but often it just sounds like something is missing. And that something is the bass.

There are many moments on Black Pistol Fire’s latest full-length, Big Beat ’59 where they desperately miss a bass guitar. A song like “Busted and Blue” could tear the house down with a full band, but the version on this record just sounds like a skeleton. The cymbals are thin and the guitar, when playing any of the riffs that comprise the song, just leaves the arrangement empty. This is hardly the only song to suffer from this particular issue, either. There are just too many places across the record where it’s unclear what BPF gains from remaining a two-piece when a bass guitar could dramatically round out their gritty blues sound.

What saves Big Beat ’59 is the strength of the songwriting. The record kicks off with “Beelzebub,” a down-home stomp (complete with handclaps, call-and-response chorus, and…a mandolin) that draws upon early blues in both its lyrical and musical themes, while delivering an energy that keeps it remarkably contemporary. “Hot Mess” features a simple but catchy pre-chorus that builds nicely into a head-shaking good time. Both of these songs succeed partially because they don’t overreach with the arrangement. They work perfectly with the limited instrumentation.

However, “Young Blood” shows that BPF can succeed with a more traditional rock song. In the hands of another band, “Young Blood” would be a massive power ballad, but BPF’s simplicity strips the song down to its core and their bluesiness keeps the song from becoming overly sentimental. Similarly, “Slow Burn” moves along gradually, using the sparse arrangement’s natural space to its advantage.

Black Pistol Fire (Kevin McKeown on guitar and vocals and Eric Owen on drums) are clearly talented instrumentalists with an insane amount of energy. Their sound is rooted in classic rock and blues, but they are at their best on Big Beat ’59 when they are using classic rock and blues as a jumping off point rather than as the entirety of the song.

– Carter