Melvins / The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Black Betty [7-inch] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Melvins / The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Black Betty [7-inch] (2011)

Amphetamine Reptile

Now that the abused music industry is wheezing its last few shallow breaths, the Melvins seem to have begun a program to generate new revenue forms that both cater to hardcore fans as well as hearken back to the music industry's first few uneasy steps. Because it's becoming increasingly harder to justify the seven-inch record due to the fact that it merely delivers two songs for between $5-$15, while the internet can deliver infinitely more for free, the Melvins have taken an interesting strategy. Instead of cutting back on production costs for their physical products, they've turned every release into premium set pieces, designed to be treasured by the collector and ignored by those of passive interest.

Following the limited screen-pressed vinyl release of their The Bride Screamed Murder album, the Melvins have released a limited-run 7-inch split with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, where both groups cover the traditional blues classic "Black Betty" as made famous by Prohibition-era wailer Leadbelly.

The Melvins' take on the classic features the band ramping the tune up to an almost hardcore thrasher, tearing through the jam in less than two minutes. Vocalist Buzz Osborne balances his iconic death wail with a punk barking that preserves the song's core soul, but injects a new fiery heat and urgency to the song.

In contrast, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's take features the band not distancing themselves from the original so much as reveling in its rising and falling riffs. After taking time to test out the ski slopes of the original, the band injects some of their punk 'n' roll swagger into the song before breaking into a guitar freakout, only to finally return to the song's original form.

The album's art is as integral to the release as the music. Artist Haze XXl personally screen-printed the cover, which features a bold image that seems to cross a '70s funk diva with the horrifying visage of Medusa, making it as interesting as an art piece as a music delivery medium.

Interestingly, because the release is put out by a small label, and was only available regionally on the West Coast, the release seems to hearken back to the pre-rock era, when small radio stations and labels would put out the music of the local groups and sell them personally to customers. While this model does hurt the wallets of those not in the vicinity, it makes it clear that both band(s) and label have put a great amount of care into their releases.

Because the Melvins have now done several releases like this, including their last LP, this release, a limited four-CD live box set, and who knows what else, an interesting dynamic has formed. Their releases are going for premium prices, but because illegal downloading is so rampant, a band can only afford to press so many units, leaving the true fans who buy the releases to carry the weight of the freeloaders. While the limited releases by the Melvins are fairly expensive, at least the items self-produced by the band are well-crafted, interesting conceptual pieces that seem targeted to be enjoyed by hardcore fans. Honestly, I think more bands should follow this model to support themselves. It creates interesting pieces outside of the normal album by bands, as well as keeps fans interested in seeing what the band will release next.

Due to the limited amount of actual music on this release, the limited distribution, and the fairly expensive price tag (and because you can illegally download these tunes in like 13 seconds), this item is strictly for collectors...but that's kind of the point.