"Omnipresence,” bigass word: “the presence of God everywhere at the same time.” Charlie Pierce possesses such an Old Testament voice on Uh-Huh, that of the One Above or He That Dwells Down Below. No in-between here for Omniscient, the narrator. Think Orson Welles.
From the count-in on the first of eight tracks, “Say No to Drugs,” Hawkeye – er, Pierce – resounds right up front in the mix: left channel, right channel, mid channel, chest cavity. “I tried saying no to drugs, but the drugs don’t take ‘no’ for an answer/ I took a turn at falling in love with a sweet little dancer.” Like Charley Crockett, the vocal fingerprints of Choctaw Wildfire’s alter-ego hook the ear at every point, here his “-er” on “answer” and “dancer” taking a hard R, like “-errr.”
And the substance in question spills literally, but also ingests Bryan Ferry’s favorite opiate and most musicians’ ultimate life narcotic: “I paid my dues eating up road/ Lord, it’s the only life I’ll ever know.”
Feel Pierce hammering down on piano, too, the ambience of the room big, bold, and brassy, like they cut Uh-Huh live at the Preservation Hall in New Orleans, only with a booming drum sound off the Secret Machines. Looks like Gibby Haynes, sounds like Leon Russell, wrote one geezer, and on “Say No to Drugs,” the bandleader manages the command of the former without the aid of a bullhorn, yet with the anthemic magnetism of the latter’s late musical realism. Meanwhile, the rhymes pump forth as if from a hospital IV:
“I’ve been up for days and days that I still can’t remember/ And I spent a year or so, just trying to forget her/ Wouldn’t let go when she wanted to run/ Sometimes a needle is a smoking gun.”
Deep, heavy, and melancholic, “Say No to Drugs” still soars, chopping white-line fever by utilizing a troubadour’s credit card. “I put down a fifth today, but I only did a little bit of cocaine,” intones Pierce, blowing up the last word. “And I’ve been driving through the pouring rain/ It’s been so very hard to maintain/ I feel the devil burning my brain/ Pour me a shot to keep me sane.”
At the opposite end of the album, “Dingleberry Pie” bookends an equally up-in-arms rouser, about which the Chronicle wrote last October: “The return of Choctaw Wildfire stages a raid on the white man’s bathroom, pantry, and presidency, brass promenade ‘Dingleberry Pie’ advancing the locals’ first LP since 2015’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen runoff Nowhere by ticking off some 80 pie types in just over three minutes.” Its profane video summarized the 2016-2020 shit show most succinctly.
Between those two attention-getters, Uh-Huh falls in with a French Quarter drum and fife parade (“Doing Alright”); takes a dubby, Leonard Cohenesque jaunt (“Trouble”); ripples as if possessed of some vintage Tumbleweed Connection (“Survive”); and rumbles Waitsian (“Bad Road”), Pierce leading his band of merry men through a heavily Big Easy-centric stomp & holler. Core groupers Leland Potter (percussion), Will Landin (tuba, bass), Jeffrey Barnes (clarinet, saxophone), and Spencer Jarmon (guitar) enlist Michael St. Clair (trombone), Derek Phelps (trumpet), Kullen Fuchs (trumpet), and Zach Varner (clarinet, saxophone). Thus, horns snake throughout like serpents inside the Egyptian tomb Indiana Jones disturbed, while sticks on the tom, Toots Thielemans-esque mouth harp, outlining electric guitar, and a balladic thrust at an upbeat, cantering tempo (“Love Me”) clock a Cosimo Matassa/Allen Toussaint tightness.
“I was fortunate to catch quite a few Dr. John shows,” emails Pierce about the NOLA lean of Uh-Huh. “Saw him open for the Stones once at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Caught him at the Chicago Theatre as well; snuck backstage after to meet him. He nodded out mid-sentence when we spoke, which definitely wasn’t out of the realm of expectation. Such an amazing performer and so much chutzpah.”
“Chutzpah,” that’s Choctaw Wildfire in a word.
– RAOUL HERNANDEZ, Austin Chronicle