‘Rock, blues, bourbon and sweat’

BEIRUT: It was to be expected. In only a few months, the fortunes of Lebanon’s The Wanton Bishops have changed considerably, and for the better. An Americana band specializing in rock’n’roll and delta blues, The Wanton Bishops have just released their debut album entitled “Sleep With The Lights On.”

Comprised of guitarist, vocalist and harmonica-player Nader Mansour and Eddy Ghosein on guitars and backing vocals, the duet’s first gig in July 2012 was staged in an unlikely venue – Gemmayzeh’s Torino Express, a narrow galley of a bar as renowned for its compact size as its cool.

The following October, The Wanton Bishops graduated to the relatively expansive stage of the Democratic Republic of Music, the off-Hamra supper club.

Last December, Beirut Jam Sessions showcased The Wanton Bishops at Sin al-Fil’s Solea V – with solo vocalist Allen Seif (aka Oak) opening. Like the band’s first two performances, it was a well-received show.

The Wanton Bishops aren’t just another Lebanese band. Origin and nationality aside, in fact, it’s difficult to find anything “Lebanese” about them. Their music seeks to blend listenable elements of Mississippi blues, rock’n’roll and ’60s-era Britpop.

In an interview with The Daily Star in July 2012, The Wanton Bishops defined their music as “a Mississippi swamp alligator raping Queen Elizabeth.” It’s a one-of-a-kind combination that freshens (or at any rate diversifies) the country’s independent music scene.

The duet’s official Facebook page further refines their self-definition: “Rock, blues, bourbon and sweat.”

“Sleep With the Lights On” is composed of 10 tracks. Six of them were previously released on the band’s debut EP – a collector’s item that Mansour and Ghosein distributed by hand.

The new tracks are “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” “Oh Wee,” “Howl” and “My Kinda Lovin’.” All conspire to entice listeners into, well, wantonness – or whatever it is one might get up to during a hoedown in a good-old American dive, with cigarette smoke wafting through the place, a generously pour of sour mash in hand and a floor-level “stage” small enough that you can smell whether the performers showered that day.

Mansour and Ghosein have composed all the tunes on “Sleep With the Lights On.”

The numbers are mainly autobiographical, as the performers told The Daily Star, pondering the duet’s interests in “bad liver [conditions], heartbreak and the loss of God eventually.”

There is a fine equilibrium between the compact instrumentation and Mansour’s coarse, deep vocals. Some female listeners may find a titillating feeling to it.

Ghosein’s guitar riffs are dynamic yet balanced. His solos take listeners into a groovy rock’n’roll realm. We can easily imagine enthusiastic women around him.

That’s the thing about The Wanton Bishops. Whatever tune you listen to, you immediately understand which atmosphere the artists want to create, the world to which they would transport you.

In a music scene dominated by trance and electro – and other styles in which sounds are pulled from laptop computers – and where so-called vocalists devote as much energy to their appearances as they do to the quality of their music, it’s thrilling to be able to listen to the good old fashioned, U.S.-inflected expressiveness of The Wanton Bishops.

The Wanton Bishops’ “Sleep With The Lights On” is released by Keeward and available in all Virgin Megastores.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 18, 2013, on page 16.




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