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The Darin Caine Hellhound Express is the real deal
LIKE SO MANY NATIVES OF UTAH, DARIN CAINE SEEMS TO SPEND a lot of time in other places. The self-taught guitarist started touring five years ago. Criss-crossing the country to play in every dive bar, juke joint and honky tonk that would have him, his mastery of the dobro has made him something of a “must-have” for live music venues.
His power trio consisting of himself, Dave Bowen on bass and Omar Vargas on drums has logged more miles in five years than most bands do in ten, and the upshot of that is that once every six to eight weeks he makes a stop in Chattanooga, usually appearing at The Honest Pint. For fans of the blues, particularly primitive-style Delta blues, the Hellhound Express is a compulsory show. If you’re not a fan of the blues, perhaps you need to see them anyway. It may be that you simply haven’t heard the blues done right.
Tall, thin (I estimate Darin to be about 6’6” and all of 145 pounds), in his trademark suit it is open for debate whether Darin looks the part of classic bluesman or classic undertaker. Given the nefarious origin myths of his musical style, perhaps the look is meant to represent a little of both. Looks don’t count for much though, unless you have the chops, and when Vargas comes in with the lush-sounding ride cymbal over Bowen’s rock solid (if subdued) bass line and the first liquid metal glissandos of the dobro cry out there is little doubt that the Hellhound Express has the chops in abundance.
There are a number of ways to approach playing music. Commonly, especially among younger musicians, the pressure is high to innovate, to play something no one else ever played before and while this lofty goal can produce some truly phenomenal music, it can also wind up a train wreck of unlistenable junk (with the odds favoring the latter). I’m not saying there is no room for balalaika in death metal, but there probably isn’t unless you’re relying on novelty more than talent.
Indeed, there are some rather famous artists (I will not name them as I do not wish my house to be burned down by the “true believers”) who built careers on being different for the sake of being different. I can appreciate the technical virtuosity of that, but the sheer math of the music and the odd time signatures and unusual modal shifts frequently seems more like an exercise than an expression, and I for one have no interest in watching (or listening to) other people exercise.
Darin and company are the opposite of that. Taking a more classical approach, they stay within the well-defined parameters of their musical style, but this focus on form allows them to perfect their art in a way less disciplined performers never can. If you want proto-blues fusion with a subtle undercurrent of Balkan folk music, go find some. If you want smoldering Mississippi juke-joint blues so real that it leaves a taste of cheap corn liquor in your mouth, you listen to these guys.
On the chance that you can’t get out to see them live (although you really, really should) there are a few albums available. The latest, Dobro Mojo, is a short sampling of seven tunes, a fairly even mix of traditional pieces and originals. A testament to the skill of the players (Caine in particular) is that the transition on the album between original and cover is seamless. Nothing seems out of place. Caine’s own tunes could easily have been written a century ago.
Even as he pays homage to the likes of Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters he seems to take his place among them, and it isn’t hard to imagine there is some long-forgotten sun-baked boarding house on the outskirts of Memphis where the walls are covered with pictures of the vagabond musicians who have stayed there. Somewhere in the back, between the pics of “Big Boy” Crudup and Elmore James is a cracked, fading black-and-white picture of a tall, lanky undertaker with the inscription “Caine—‘27” scrawled across the bottom.
You can find the music of the Darin Caine Hellhound Express on reverbnation, darincaine.com and on Facebook. There are many, many tunes available for download and the premise is download it, listen, and if you like it, make a donation. I cannot recommend this enough.
Real musicians are worth supporting, real music is worth paying for and Darin and the boys are as real as it gets.