Sharing a kinship for the Hill Country's juke-joint blues and the Motor City's garage-rock boogie, North Mississippi transplant The Alcazar Hotel blasts through Come On! Dig the Unified Theory! Founder and frontman Will Dawson—also of Squirrel Nut Zippers 2.0 and Katharine Whalen's Lucky—thumps low-lying grooves from his two-string bass while pushing his vocal cords into the red. On "3-Legged Dog," for instance, Dawson casts himself as the scruffy mutt, using the toothless canine mask to wax existential. "You toil and you trouble and then you die," he howls, the whole thing less hokey for its mile-a-minute clip, "Ain't no puppy hanging up in the sky."
The trio tackles post-Kick Out the Jams MC5 on the insistent title track, which integrates Edward Stanley's lead riff with hip-shaking rhythm and a call-and-response section. Alcazar also uses the studio to outstrip its three-piece limitations, augmenting the Zippers' "Wash Jones" with drummer Paul Taylor's cosmic synthesizer bridge. Paul Morelli lends his fervid sax to "Dog," while Jimbo Mathus shouts from the background. North Mississippi Allstar and Black Crowe Luther Dickinson adds his slide work to the backwoods stomp of "Sinner Man."
Unified Theory's strongest moment, though, comes when Alcazar shifts gears. The acoustic and glockenspiel-driven closer "Play Nice" depends upon gentle strums and Dawson's antipathetic acknowledgement: "It's obvious the only thing we have in common is that we both hate my fuckin' guts." Dawson recognizes the irreconcilable differences, admitting, "You don't rob the same banks twice/ and I never shake any of my vices."
And broken dogs don't apologize.
The Alcazar Hotel plays The Reservoir Wednesday, March 25, with Death to Details and Instant Jones. Donate generously, or better yet, buy the album at 10 p.m.