"Knee Deep in Mud" isn't just a song on the Aces' fantastic new CD, No One Rides for Free—it's a manifesto of the band's sound. Dirty, swampy and greasy in all the right ways, the Aces peddle a tumescent tone that hits the gut like a hangover plate of corned beef hash, but instead of potatoes and onions, the Aces sling low cymbals, a tuned-down guitar and a vintage Fender spring reverb tank. Topping it off is Sky O'Banion's pummeling harmonica, blown through a self-made microphone cobbled from various vintage parts and run through Charlie Musselwhite's old Meteor amp, and damn, does it ever sound mean.
The Aces have been around for 13 years, but they're finally experiencing what lead guitarist Derek Irving calls their "midlife rebirthing." Earlier this year they flew to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge and placed in the Top 10; Musselwhite's hooked them up with good shows; and a record label based in Barcelona, Spain, of all places, got in touch about finally hitting the studio. Surprisingly, No One Rides for Free was recorded completely live in just 10 hours. No overdubs. No funny stuff. Just the raw deal.
"Nobody in the band is really into that style of clean blues," says Irving, and as such, the band's barrage of saturated tubes doesn't always fit with the smooth, wine country blues so popular around the area; pompadours are a more common pairing than Pinot for their rough-and-tumble performances. No One Rides for Free, from the steam-train "Stole Something from Me" to the lonesome "Drinkin' Song," has the mark of a solid band eschewing what's popular for what's honest.
Get knee-deep in mud and glass-high in beer at their release party on Saturday, Nov. 21, at the Russian River Brewing Company. 725 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 8pm. Free. 707.545.2337.