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Rico Bell & the Snake Handlers

Dark Side of the Mersey – 1999 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Rico Bell & the Snake Handlers

For the past 13 years, Rico Bell has been successfully wheezing away on an accordion for The Mekons, the Leeds punk collective that espouses barroom revolution in both art and politics. Recently, though, the band which has always stood together as a unit, has explored a number of side and solo projects. From the Waco Brothers to Skull Orchard to Sally Timms to the late Kathy Acker to the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, the Mekons have splintered, however briefly, to examine life beyond the whole.

Add Bell to that short list, with the release of his sophomore solo effort coming three years after his debut, "The Return of Rico Bell." With a sound that operates simultaneously in a number of camps (Cajun, blues, country, rock), Bell waltzes, shivers and shouts through a potent set of originals that reinforces his image as the English Bruce Springsteen over a Pogues soundtrack. In light of the incredible quality of the moonlighting projects, including this brilliant, energetic, boozy and sincere effort, it's a wonder that there haven't been more sooner.