Way down in the hole

Red Mouth
; Saint Red Mouth
; (self-released)
; with Jack Watkins, Saint Sibian
; 9 p.m. Friday, July 9
; Will's Pub, 407-898-5070
; www.willspub.org
; $7

If anyone knows how to work a minimalist setup powerfully, it's Eric "Red Mouth" Gebhardt. The only companions the Muscle Shoals bluesman (and former Orlandoan) typically travels with are his guitar and a wooden riser to amplify his foot-stomps. As austere as that sounds, his bum-howling theatricality and full-body spectacle make for a riveting sight.

Although the sound on his third album is fleshed out with Bryan Farris on guitar and Brian Conner on washtub bass, everything begins and ends with Red Mouth. And on Saint Red Mouth, his combination of dark blues, spooky gospel, rustic Americana and punk spirit is delivered with the full intent and force of an old campfire storyteller.

Compositional starkness and amplified madness are core ingredients here, but this is something altogether different than the camp and outrageousness of a typical one-man band. The music on Saint Red Mouth is all haunted, moss-covered atmosphere. It's the lonely soundtrack of a Southern backwater and hangs still and heavy like the August humidity. Shepherding it all is the evocative sickness of Red Mouth's wounded baying.

The thick and dense "I Don't Want to Wake No More" pairs anxious, burning guitars with the stirring melody of a slave hymn, while "What's Who is Who" is a bleak and woozy vision of the modern blues. "The Darkness of My Mind," a midnight country ballad, sits where the end of the night and the bottom of the bottle meet, but nothing captures the gripping primitiveness of Red Mouth's live sound like the bone-chilling chain-gang chant of "Heflin Hollis."

Lingering like lost, tormented ghosts, these songs trace the darker recesses of America. However, there's no recording process that can fully capture the singularly arresting experience of Red Mouth's live power. And though the raw, uncooked bones of Saint Red Mouth are graphic enough to intrigue, Red Mouth's performance this week is a prime opportunity to taste Southern gothic at its best.

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