Checkered Past: The Harpoonist and The Axe Murder – Album Review

Whoever said that blues is dead is definitely mistaken. Vancouver based duo The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer (a.k.a. HAM) has just brought back the sound of the deep South to our local airwaves with their new album Checkered Past and has proven to the music world that blues is far from dead.

Since 2006, Shawn “the harpoonist” Hall has been blowing his harp and singing the blues to Matt “the axe murderer” Rogers’ soulful guitar licks. The end result is a sound that is emotionally rich as it takes you back to a time when music was raw and pure. Their sexy foot-stomping tunes have worked their way into the hearts of every blues lover in North America satisfying loyal fans and making new ones along the way.

Many bands have incorporated the elements and style of blues in their music but The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer does it traditionally. Inspired by the pioneers and masters of blues such as BB King, John Hurt, Bling Willie McTell, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, they have innovatively crafted their sound to its bluesy perfection, always returning to their roots and the roots of music. Sticking to the format of the original blues performances which is having just one or two guys singing, playing the guitar and stomping their feet, just made this duo a true blues act. Ultimately, HAM introduced the old sound to the new generation and showed everyone how blues should be played.

The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer have come a long way from first album The Blues Can Kill You that was released in 2007 and consists completely of covers and some traditional blues standards. In 2008, they released their self-titled sophomore album that consists of a mixture of originals and blues standards. Released last October 27, 2011, HAM’s new album Checkered Past features 13 songs that didn’t stray from the deep roots sound but still offered some interesting modern twists.

Fueled with singing that is reminiscent of a southern drawl, memorable harp solos and intricate guitar riffs with some elements of rock and roll, each track will stick to your soul and will make you appreciate the sound of the good old blues. The duo played all instruments in each track including the bass, harp, percussion, guitars and keys and took turns doing the vocals. There is also no extra help in the production area of their album. Rogers and Hall are renowned producers and are the ones who are solely responsible not just for the creative part of this entire album but also the technical side of it.

Songs such as “Wake up” and  “Get Out” are blessed with a good hook that you will find yourself singing along after a few listens. “Mellow Down Easy” is a more upbeat, get-on-your-feet tune complete with a 60’s rock and roll touch. “Too Late Virginia” and “Be my Woman” are just slow, sweaty and absolutely seductive. For a quick 12 seconds, “Shake it” sounded more like an indie rock song before transitioning to a full-blown, decades-deep blues style.

Overall, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murder’s Checkered Past is a great album. You don’t even have to be a blues enthusiast to appreciate good music and what this duo has been creating is something that is beyond good. Their music is packed with a lot of heart, soul and sensual melody. Also, every now and then, it’s quite refreshing to come back to our roots and listen to ‘blues that gets ya in the crotch’.

You can purchase the album here:


Gian Karla Limcangco

Gian Karla Limcangco