Blues rock is a style that is not too popular or prevalent in South Africa today where the modern rock styles of the new millennium are the fad of the moment. Globalisation has caused a situation where the majority of local bands sound little different to any number of foreign acts, and the generic effect is of groups who sound alike and not very interesting. Guitar solos are not cool; big, soaring anthemic rock is the hip thing. That everything sounds alike is a minor issue.
It is always refreshing to hear a band who does something different to what their peers are doing and who then distinguish themselves from the herd in so doing. One such group is The Pretty Blue Guns who may look like emo kids, or whatever look the common or garden band aspires to, but sound a hell of a lot different.
If I cast my mind back the best (relatively) recent comparison I can think of is the defunct Billygoat (one of the Trippy Grape bands from the mid to late Nineties), who came from much the same concept as Pretty Blue Guns, and Delta Blue who started as a purist blues band and then became soulbluesrock monsters by the time of their third album Inbluesstation.
There have also been other blues bands in South Africa over the years who perfected their cover versions of blues and blues rock standards and entertained thousands in pubs all across the land, but apart from being quite entertaining they did not contribute much to the development of the local scene because they hardly, if ever, wrote their own songs.
Then there is Dan Patlansky who channels Stevie Ray Vaughan and is happy to be the hottest guitars linger in the country and is incredibly earnest about it all.
Now we have The Pretty Blue Guns who are named for a Tom Waits song and who bring the proverbial modern rock energy to a blues sensibility in a kind of first for South Africa where this kind of roots blues infused rock is not yet as prevalent as it is elsewhere, because most local rock acts are very serious about their modernist and up to date hip credentials.
PBG look like every other local rock act from Bellville to Benoni yet stand apart because they dig a different beat. They have guitar solos and slashing slide guitar And they write damn good traditionally recognisable tunes.
Lost Faith is the best lovelorn kiss-off song I've heard in a while.
The piece de resistance is Devil Do, the last track, which is a fine approximation of an old timey gospel blues, much like the song Ain't Going To Heaven off Delta Blue's (so far) last album, Heaven. For some reason South African white boys are rather more keen on the delights offered by Satan than the heavenly rewards good Christians are supposed to enjoy.
There is not much of a Tom Waits connection here, except for the band name, and the blues is more of a background to the muscular rock the boys play, yet it is a fine debut, assured and full of the kind of energy punk is supposed to have and which sounds so lacking in so much of modern rock today. The guys are young and still have to absorb their influences fully but if they slightly overreach themselves when they sing about subjects best left to old bluesmen, I sense a genuine commitment to the style and sources and perhaps a keen interest to build on a tradition.
If they can get it together to be a bit of a jam band, as blues rock really demands of its practitioners, The Pretty Blue Guns would be a very satisfactory live experience.