Sure it’s blues. The music Aaron Moreland and Dustin Arbuckle have submerged themselves in over the past 15 years have been ripe with the blues, from the roots traditions of the Delta to electric innovations forged in Chicago to numerous contemporary augmentations. The two may hail from Kansas, but their blues view is nationwide.
But give an ear to any of the six albums they have cut and one thing stands out as much as the blues. Well, actually, two things.
It starts with the drive of drummer Kendall Newby, who, despite the band name of Moreland & Arbuckle, makes the duo a trio. At heart of the music, though, is groove — direct, meaty groove that blazes through the combo’s music like an unrelenting pulse.
On the newest Moreland & Arbuckle album, Promised Land or Bust, you hear it as soon as Take Me With You (When You Go) kicks into gear with Moreland’s sinewy guitar riff, Arbuckle’s harmonica coloring and Newby’s percussive might. It all combines for a groove that takes the band out of its Heartland homeland and into the humid blues trenches of the deep South.
“Groove is everything,” said Arbuckle, who will lead the trio into Lexington for the opening of WUKY’s Phoenix Fridays series of free summer concerts in Phoenix Park.
“You have to have the right groove for any kind of music you’re playing. Blues and rock ‘n’ roll, traditionally, are dance music forms. If the groove’s not right, then they are not going to get people moving. If you’re not tuned into that, if you’re not all working together to find that and to feel that, it’s not going to work right. That’s something we’ve always been pretty conscious of.”
Arbuckle began playing with Moreland in 2001 when the two splintered off from what the former called “a fairly run-of-the-mill blues-rock bar band” to form an acoustic blues duo.
“I started listening to blues when I was in my mid-teens,” Arbuckle said. “It was the classic stuff that really bit me — Elmore James, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson. At the time, there was a pretty strong blues/rock/R&B scene in Wichita. Then I got to know some of the people from the Kansas City scene, as well, that were encouraging. What we heard had more of that Texas blues-rock vibe. As I got older and deeper and deeper into music, I gravitated toward the more traditional, early Chicago blues sound and also into the older Mississippi sound, the Delta blues and the North Mississippi hill country stuff.
“When Aaron and I met, that would influence the stuff he was really into, too. Part of the reason we became friends was because there weren’t really any other younger people around that were interested in that style of music.”
By the time Newby joined in 2006, the music had become more electric and eclectic. But even as the band’s sound grew bigger, one element, largely by default, was absent — bass. While their records, especially Promised Land of Bust (Moreland & Arbuckle’s debut for Chicago’s famed Alligator label), sports bass players and keyboardists to augment the sound, the group performs live as a guitar/harmonica/drums trio.
“We went through a couple of different bass players and never could really find the guy who was interested in playing the stuff that was really in our style. They just wanted to overplay to where the music just didn’t feel right. So, eventually, we got to a point where we started experimenting with just doing guitar, harmonica and drums. Bands like the Jelly Roll Kings and Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers didn’t have bass. That told us, ‘Hey, you can do this.’”
In recent years, Arbuckle succumbed slightly to the demands of bass by playing some himself “maybe two, three, four tunes a night” to help flesh out tunes, especially newer works from Promised Land or Bust, where bass was an integral component. For the most part, though, the novel instrumentation of guitar, harp and drums gets the groove going, making the music of Moreland & Arbuckle sound soulful, rootsy and massive.
“When we parted ways with our last bass player, we thought we would give it a go as a trio for a while, you know, just to see how it works. That was 10 years ago. We never went back.”
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com
If you go
Moreland & Arbuckle/The Marcus King Band/Mojo Tones
When: 5:30 p.m. May 20
Where: Phoenix Park, 100 E. Main as part of WUKY-FM’s Phoenix Fridays