Barrence Whitfield & the Savages – Dig Thy Savage Soul Review

Barrence Whitfield

If you like the Dirtbombs, get ready; for the OG party soul band has returned. Amen.

Bloodshot Records, 2013

7.2 / 10.0

For Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, the path to Dig Thy Savage Soul has been a long one. Yet, I’m not sure it would have made sense ending anywhere but here. Barrence Whitfield (born Barry White) was born in Jacksonville, Florida. As a child, he and his family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where he began singing in a local gospel choir. While attending West Side High School he also sang and played drums in local rock and funk bands. In 1977 White enrolled at Boston University to study journalism. While in school, he also worked in a local record shop, where his singing was heard by local musician Peter Greenberg of The Lyres. White adopted the stage name of Barrence Whitfield to avoid confusion with the other Barry White and began performing with Greenberg and other former members of the Lyres as Barrence Whitfield & the Savages. The band gathered a strong local reputation for their stage performances, described as “raucous and rough, in high gear from the moment they hit the stage.” Whitfield himself was described as “a soul screamer in the spirit of Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, and early Don Covay.” In 1984, the band released their self-titled debut album, mostly comprising cover versions of obscure soul songs, to good critical reviews. The following year, they released a second album, Dig Yourself, on Rounder Records. Whitfield released a third album, Call of the Wild, in the UK in 1987, featuring a new line-up of his band. He toured widely in Europe, and won supporting slots on US tours by artists including Bo Diddley, Tina Turner, Robert Cray, and Solomon Burke. This was followed by seven Boston Music Awards. A live album recorded in 1987-88 was followed by the album Let’s Lose It, produced by Jim Dickinson.

In the 1990s, Whitfield contributed tracks to Merle Haggard and Don Covay tribute albums, and recorded two albums with country music singer-songwriter Tom Russell. His ‘final’ album with the Savages, Ritual of the Savages, was released in 1995. In 1997, he began working with a New Hampshire-based jump blues and rockabilly octet, The Movers. As well as continuing to perform in the UK and Europe, Whitfield has also contributed to film scores, including the 2007 film, Honeydripper. In December 2010 Barrence reunited with original Savages Peter Greenberg (DMZ, Lyres, Customs) with Andy Jody (Gazelles!, Pearlene, Oxford Cotton, Long Gones) and Tom Quartulli on sax to perform two live shows and record a new Barrence Whitfield and The Savages record. And here, we have Dig Thy Savage Soul, an album that proves why (when in the right hands) soul music will never die.

New soul-rock acts like JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound and The Dirtbombs have done some great work in reviving/reclaiming the classic sound of soul, but on this new album Whitfield shows that it doesn’t take a young man to rip the still beating heart from his audience. Whitfield leads this group with the snarl and balls of a punk, but clearly indebted to greats like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Howlin’ Wolf. My take is that Dig Thy Savage Soul is the second best record we’ve heard from Bloodshot Records so far this year (taking second to JC Brooks’ Howl is no crying matter). The loud, rambunctious party blues Whitfield is dishing out is spot on goal. So much so that I find myself breaking a sweat by the record’s end, even though I never left the chair. Don’t tell the Savages that last part, because the plan is clearly to have one shaking their ass. My largest complaint with Dig Thy Savage Soul is that I think it maybe strays too far into the arena of rock where I might like to hear a little more funk. “Turn Your Damper Down” would sound right at home on a David Lee Roth album (in his prime). Even that, however, is nothing more than a matter of taste. Throughout the record, Barrence proves to be a one-of-a-kind band leader and the Savages are nothing short of a top-notch band. It’s often hard for bands this raw to get their power across on record. That isn’t a problem for Whitfield and the Savages, making Dig Thy Savage Soul an easy recommendation for anyone that just wants to let loose and break a few things.

Key Tracks:
“My Baby Didn’t Come Home Last Night”
“Hangman’s Token”
“Daddy’s Gone To Bed”

Purchase Barrence Whitfield & the Savages’ Dig Thy Savage Soul / Amazon

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About Chris Bell

Chris Bell was born in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO in 1981. His path toward a life enjoying music began at ten, when he first heard Queen. Chris attended Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, where he studied English and Communication Arts. While there, Chris spent three years working as an on-air disc jockey for 88.7 KTRM Radio. Chris was the host/creator of the weekly ‘Tangled Up In Bob’ show and a frequent guest on the station’s weekend talk format, serving as a guest commentator on music and politics. It was during this time that Chris was first published by the National Communication Association. His work, ‘Dylan and the New Left: How Political Song Changed American Political Rhetoric’ was presented at the 2002 NCA National Convention in New Orleans. Chris was the only undergraduate to present research on his panel, ‘Rhetorical Strategies in Music’. After college, Chris moved back to Kansas City and started his own talent management company, Poker Face Productions. He continued to manage that company until moving to Brooklyn, NY to pursue a business opportunity in 2008. While there, Chris started as a weekly column writer and album reviewer for Now back in the Midwest, Chris is hoping to bring what he learned about music media in New York to his hometown and support an already vibrant arts culture in Kansas City. His areas of concentration include American Roots, Glam Rock, Punk, Psychedelia, Chamber Pop, American Underground, and Garage Rock.

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