Devin Blair explores his inner Journeyman on a lo-fi ’60s psychedelic trip to see the Wizards
“The Journeyman” by Devil Blare, from The Journeyman (Murder in the Living Room Records):
A thick, nasty, cold, piss-ass drizzle is coming down over Community America Ballpark, but the game goes on. The Kansas City Wizards are down 3-1, looking at their first defeat of the season, to the New England Revolution. Soccer team names are fruity.
I am standing under the dripping scoreboard. Way off at the other end of the stadium, crowded onto the bleachers behind the goal into which the small, distant Wizards are trying to kick their little silver ball, a pocket of fans yells, beats drums, blows whistles and hurls streamers. They create enough ruckus for the whole stadium — almost enough to justify the Wizards’ entire existence.
Me, I would make a terrible soccer hooligan.
Not so for my companion, Devin Blair, veteran Kansas City musician, family man, high school English teacher and soccer fan. This 32-year-old used to play the sport himself. On the drive out here, he played the Stone Roses on his car stereo as part of his own pregame ritual. “They had a big hooligan connection,” he said.
Under the sinister-sounding alias Devil Blare, Blair has just released a solo album that pretty much perfectly reflects the situation at the soccer game: working stiffs, soaking wet, watching a sport that’s huge in England at a stadium where, when the home team scores a goal, “Song 2” by Blur plays on the PA.
Blair’s record, The Journeyman, is a strange, homespun little pop curio. Determinedly lo-fi and psychedelic, it sounds like something Ringo Starr and Syd Barrett might have produced over a weekend with LSD, shrooms, sherry and a coffee-table book of the English working class.
The songs are simple and jaunty, often with Blair cutting out a reverby melodic riff on his teardrop guitar and singing through a Green Bullet harmonica mic, his baritone laden with varying degrees of distortion.
A rickety old Mosrite bass guitar plays a central role, sounding like something exhumed from the Strawberry Alarm Clock‘s instrumental coffin. There’s also plenty of acoustic guitar; tambourine; harmonica; and, on a few songs, some bright, shuffling drum work from none other than Kriss Ward, the man behind the kit for now-defunct sleaze rockers the Last of the V8s.
“He’s really an old soul guy,” Blair says. (Blair is, too, having fronted the late, mod-influenced local bands Go Generation and Seaside Riot.)
The album opens with “Leave Me Alone,” its longest track, at 3:28, a slow builder reminiscent of the early Who that climaxes with the line I see the problems, but I can’t solve them over chirping falsetto backup na-na-nas.
Next comes the loping, bluesy title track, with Ward’s kick drum and snare rustling under Blair’s shades-and-skinny-tie chorus: I’m a journeyman, baby, I go where the wind blows. “Save My Soul,” is 83 seconds of frantic rock and garbled lyrics leading into “This Commonwealth,” in which the album’s main character addresses the land.
Listening to the album, you can’t help but wonder why Blair poured so much into writing brilliant, ’60s-derived pop songs about the human condition but didn’t take the time to flesh out the recordings. In fact, it’s a little frustrating — these songs deserve better treatment.
Blair says the lo-fi approach is all part of the concept.
“It’s the psyche of a working stiff, the guy who knows life could be better but still puts up with the confines of his everyday life,” he explains.
The album came out of Blair’s own confinements, the job and family duties that grind against his songwriter’s drive. He says he writes between five and 10 songs a month. His solution: Record them fast and get them out there. Maybe people will hear them, and maybe they won’t.
And so here we are, two guys who don’t know each other that well, freezing our assess off at a soccer game. “Song 2” isn’t likely to be playing anytime soon. It’s raining. Affordable food and beer beckon elsewhere. And Blair’s got a wife and two kids waiting for him.
The journeyman goes home.