Although dreaded images of Grateful Dead spinoffs and/or knockoffs come to mind when the phrase "roots-rock" is uttered, My Jerusalem, along with Carlos Arzate and the Kind Souls, proved that the form has as many meanings as rock 'n' roll itself.
A local supergroup of sorts, Carlos Arzate and the Kind Souls played a brief set of acoustic guitar- and harmony-driven songs. Featuring members of American Android and the Tryst, among other Tucson bands, the focus here was on the vocal interplay between Arzate and his two female backup singers. Over rock, reggae and light funk rhythms, the three singers traded off ragged lines that were soulful and, at times, gospel-ish. Their voices sounded gorgeous together, and the basic template seemed to be that of early '70s Rolling Stones, like "Let It Loose" from Exile on Main St. The lead guitarist, who sounded like one of Eric Clapton's biggest fans, weaved his solos in and out from underneath the din of the harmonies. The Kind Souls were rootsy in the more traditional sense (i.e., blues and country music), but not so retro as to derail the formidable songwriting of Arzate.
Coming from Austin, Texas, a hotbed for roots-rock, My Jerusalem pretty much shattered all preconceived notions of its meaning. They stretched their roots back to their very name, playing fire-and-brimstone noise that was loud, raggedy and elegant. It was refreshing to hear a current indie band that didn't play garage/psychedelic rock, new wave or '90s tribute music. Instead, My Jerusalem fashioned a distinctive sound from threads of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and PJ Harvey, among similar artists who put a stately spin on blues, distorted through a post-punk lens.
The songs were stellar, and singer Jeff Klein's booming baritone, simultaneously frightening and inviting, anchored the band, which included a multi-instrumentalist who impressively pulled off the feat of playing trumpet, trombone, synthesizer and electric guitar in the space of one song. Throughout the set, they displayed a sense of dignified restraint that put My Jerusalem into the league of a truly great band.