Times haven’t been all that good around here lately; bad enough to give anyone the blues. For that, you might want to lend an ear to the Wanton Bishops. With Nader Mansour (vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards) and Eddy Ghosein (guitar, backing vocals, banjo), the Wanton Bishops is a fresh blues-rock duo straight from Beirut.
“As soon as Nader came back from France he was looking for a blues guitar player, and we started playing the blues all around town,” Eddy tells Beirut.com. “Then I disappeared in the mountains for a year or so writing songs and Eddy would drop by to work on them,” adds Nader.
The boys got help from some friends, namely Malek Rizkallah (of Scrambled Eggs and Who Killed Bruce Lee) on drums and Pascal Sarkis (of Jammit the Band and Who Killed Bruce Lee) on bass, not to mention producer Fadi Tabbal (Tunefork Studios) recording the sessions that would go on to form their “Bad Rhyme” EP.
And what an EP it is. “Bad Rhyme” can best be described as richly sparse. It’s not complex or intricate, in fact it boasts a gritty minimalistic sound, yet it has various layers and elements. There’s blues, not just manifested in guitar-form; there’s a fair bit of harmonica here and there (“Sleep with the Lights On,”, “Whoopy,” “Bad Rhyme”) and some banjo too (“Whoopy”). In addition to the blues you’ve got good ol’ fashion rock n’ roll (“Smith & Wesson,” “Time to Go”) but the two are fused in a way where each was stripped to its core, and the raw ingredients of each were used to make a new dish, instead of just jumbling it all up into one desperate mess.
“What brought us together is the blues, yet we separately have different influences. I, for instance, am very keen on British music from the sixties,” says Eddy. Nader - on the other hand - is on a total blues diet, “I listen almost strictly to Mississippi blues, add to it a couple of exceptions here and there, The Black Keys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Seasick Steve, The White Stripes, The Dead Weather.” He best sums up the Wanton Bishops formula, “He’s [Eddy] into his loud guitars, while I’m more into the harmonica, banjo, and slide guitar stuff, and that’s what makes the whole dynamic interesting in the band, we keep pulling, each to his side until it feels right.” Credit is also due to Malek and Pascal for their equally excellent contributions, giving every track fresh drumbeats (especially the ones in “Smith & Wesson”) and groovy bass work (the kooky effect-filtered rhythms in “Bad Rhyme”).
There’s also an overall dirtiness and grittiness to the sound, which makes sense when you’re aware of the artists they cite as inspirations. “We were as broke as a fucking church mouse. My guitar is in three pieces, the fucker kept losing parts while we recorded, and you can hear shit flying away if you listen carefully. We still owe money all around Beirut man,” says Nader. “Dirtiness is not intentional, but we liked it,” Eddy adds.
Lyrically, Nader succeeds in channeling his blues idols through simple lyrics packed with meaning. Speaking of the city, the mountains “where the nights have no pity”, religion, whiskey, the devil, and more, Nader cites some very unlikely literary influences: “from Marquis De Sade to Arthur Rimbeau, from the beatnik writers and poets:Herman Hesse, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, William Borroughs, to a whole lot of Charles Bukowski and John Fante, and some Chuck Klosterman lately.”
The band, with its style and influences, is certainly an anomaly in the region. So how does a music deeply rooted in American folklore and born from the struggle of a different people relate to us? Nader’s got his own view on that: “I think the Lebanese audience can relate to the blues pretty damn well. Lebanese have the blues, being at war for the last three decades! We even have our own equivalent of blues music, the folklore mijanas or atabas that you can hear in the mountains, singing life’s pain and happiness.” Music for troubled people who still know how to party? Works for us.
All in all, the “Bad Rhyme” EP may be a mere five tracks, but If you’re into gritty jangly blues and loud and rude rock n’ roll, you’re most likely going to get a real kick out of this one.
To listen to the “Bad Rhyme” EP, head over here. Like what you hear? Make sure to head down to Radio Beirut in Mar Mikhael for the Bishops’ first “official” live gig on Saturday.
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