The Duluth hill country blues of Black Eyed Snakes at the Hook and Ladder

Photo by Smouse

This show was a Hook Stream from the Hook and Ladder. To find out more, click here.

Isn’t music the best?

It’s the best cure for the blues. Sometimes – often – the blues are the best cure for the blues.

Enter the Black Eyed Snakes, whose Duluth hill country blues literally shook the Hook and Ladder on Saturday – and hopefully good home speaker systems on the live stream.

If you’re unfamiliar with hill country blues, don’t feel bad.

It’s a regional style that grew out of Mississippi artists like acoustic bluesman Fred McDowell. It was later transformed by the hypnotic electric drone of legends like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough.

The Black Eyed Snakes – led by Low frontman Alan Sparhawk – have perfected their own type of hill country blues, which is fitting since they’re from the hills of Duluth.

While they play a similar sort of heavy, hypnotic blues as Burnside and Kimbrough, they add a gospel passion and a slight north country swing.

Photo by Smouse

The best description of the Snakes, though, comes from band leader Alan Sparhawk himself.

In an interview with Music in Minnesota over the past summer, he explained: “‘Snakes was built on simpler, more repetitive blues stuff like John Lee Hooker, Skip James, R.L. Burnside, and Howlin’ Wolf. Not so into keeping track of 12 bars – that’s western thinking trying to impose itself on something that is free.”

Freedom is a huge part of the live Black Eyed Snakes experience, as they showed on Saturday night at the Hook and Ladder.

Like Alan said, most of their songs are based on repetitive, deceptively simply riffs. But they’re played with such heavy recklessness that you feel every note. When you break away from typical blues structures, you find a raw, primal freedom, and that’s what the Snakes are all about.

Photo by Smouse

Going in, I was afraid that their brand of aural assault would lose something without an audience.

I was wrong, as Alan and the band – which featured two guitars and two drummers – played with even more energy than usual, perhaps due to the extraordinary circumstances.

Many of the tracks they played are from their new album, Rise Up! (you can find it here). The release finds the Snakes in prime form, with Sparhawk screaming/singing his into a vintage mic with the band rocking relentlessly behind him.

Like with so much blues music of this sort, though, the studio can’t really contain it.

Live performances are the best way to appreciate it, as the Snakes showed with hyped-up versions of “Good Woman Blues” and “Bo Diddley” from their new album (perfect choice of cover song, btw) and older tracks like “Seven Horses” and “Church Song.”

The evening ended with “Alright Boys,” which was prefaced by a heartfelt tribute to the community of Minneapolis in the wake of the current civil unrest. It was very touching.

Photo by Smouse

Yes, indeed, music is the best.

That’s why we need to keep it going by supporting events like the Hook Streams at the Hook and Ladder, and enigmatic bands like the Black Eyed Snakes.

Miss the show? No problem!

Use promo code MNSNAKEMUSIC to get a deal on watching the stream.




Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.


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