The Snake Charmers, Been Gone Too Long
If music is aural communication with the spiritual, then the blues would be its sacred book of hymns. That’s just what the Snake Charmers’ sultry release Been Gone Too Long personifies in spades. As lead singer and songwriter Marie Angell seductively sings on Too Long‘s opening track, it “ain’t nothin’ but the blues.”
The Snake Charmers take great precaution in preserving the blues/rock/soul fundamentals that propel the listener through giddy twelve-bar numbers such as “No Mercy” and “Big Big Love” and slide them gracefully into the alluring “Half A Cup.” Unfortunately, their precautions tend to compromise their inventiveness. The blues genre has been reproduced so many times that in order to be viewed as anything other than a standard blues group, musicians must re-invent and, often times, re-create ways of making blues sound fresh again. For the Snake Charmers, this comes in the voice of Marie Angell.
She sings, she seduces, and it’s her velvety, baritone, Joni Mitchell-esque warbling that keeps the Snake Charmers from completely sounding like a cheap blues redux. She’s at her best on the slower numbers — like the aforementioned “Ain’t Nothiing But the Blues” and “Half a Cup” — where the band creates space for Angell’s voice with jazzy, lingering variations of twelve bars.
The Snake Charmers seem to falter at certain points, particularly when they try to be a cheeky and entertaining blues band. Songs like “Big Big Love,” with its Latin-inspired groove, inevitably sound flat, despite the presence of mouth harp legend Dr. Otis Futhermucker. Then there’s the whimsical “(I Wanna be a) Hoochie Mama,” which probably sounds good in performance but almost eliminates the class with which the rest of the album was composed — and closing an album with shave and a haircut, two bits doesn’t exactly help.
There are times when the band is able to straddle the space between their soulful disposition and their taste for twelve-bar whimsy, to the benefit of the music. “Can’t Trust a Heart” shows the Charmers’ ability to write and play with a “bigger” sound, displaying an anthemic quality akin to (dare I say it?) Pink Floyd, while the title track does well working with Doors pastiche.
Taken at face value, the Snake Charmers sound like a straightforward, uncompromising blues band. Been Gone Too Long has enough blues guitar and twelve-bar sequences to last a lifetime, but at certain, seemingly insignificant, moments, it sounds like the Charmers are striving for something more. Most of the album, though, revels in convention. It’s not so much a knock to their ability to create but more of a testament to their restraint — which is great. So great that it works to their disadvantage.