2010 demise of beloved local hip-hop outfit Deaf Judges was an irrefutable blow
to the local music community—few acts performed with the same unholy fervor,
few were as convincingly human. A year and a half on, it feels like a revival
up in here. Three fourths of that group have recently returned under a new
creative union—the bustling and buzzworthy Mad Axes—and have put forth a fine
first album in the shapeshifting, hubristically titled Debut Smash. As for the other guy, well,
he’s been busy the whole time, picking away at some down-home Delta blues.
the Judges, Austin Darnell performed under the moniker Produce Man and was
responsible for some of the group’s most energetic and well constructed lyrical
salvos. With the blues-obsessed Darnell Boys, he now puts forth some equally
inspired—if stylistically divergent—performances.
just love music,” Darnell explains. “Old or new, it doesn’t matter, as long as
it speaks to you. But it has to speak in that rare way that only really great
art and music can.”
name implies, The Darnell Boys are a bona fide family band. With siblings Caleb
and Gus, the eldest Darnell plays a steadfastly authentic blend of blues,
country and other such traditional sounds, taking cues from legends like
Howlin’ Wolf, Ray Charles and Otis Redding to create a uniquely soulful sound.
At the heart of the music is a shared history that cannot be substituted with
any amount of outsider talent.
dad and his brothers all play music, and our grandmother plays gospel piano,”
Darnell explains. “We always sang and played together at family gatherings.
We’ve been playing music around [Athens] for years, but this is the first time
all three of us have worked together on a project.”
the frequent and then permanent addition of Elijah Neesmith on upright bass,
and Patrick Weise on junkyard percussion, the group began gigging regularly;
its recurring shows at spots like Farm 255 proved crowd favorites. The Boys won
over many an unsuspecting audience, amassing in the process a small legion of
enamored followers. The band’s increasing popularity has led to its first 40
Watt performance, where the group will perform with like-minded local
revivalists The Corduroy Road.
these three brothers, who grew up here and have spent young lifetimes bumming
around town, Athens is the glue that holds The Darnell Boys together. “[Our]
family moved here when I was three,” Darnell says, “and both my brothers were
born here, so Athens has definitely shaped our perceptions about life and
music. When we play, we want people to feel at home. Whether we’re onstage or
picking in the backyard, passing a bottle around, everyone is welcome.” It’s
the sort of pleasant invitational attitude you find throughout the local music
scene, but these guys seem to embody it better than just about anyone else.
from Thursday’s show, The Darnell Boys are preparing for a busy summer. An
album is in the works (with Chase Park’s Will Manning), and the band has a spot
on the AthFest mainstage alongside Reptar, Atlas Sound and Yip Deceiver—a
lineup that confirms this town’s openness to a ridiculously wide swath of
musical styles. Darnell looks forward to bringing his family’s love for the
artistry of tradition to the masses.
way someone like Ray Charles sings and plays,” he muses, “there’s really no
word for it. It’s personal and almost spiritual. That’s the kind of music that
interests me, and I hope that’s the kind of music we make.” Plus, he says,
“It’s a great way to spend time with my family.”