Singer and guitarist John Spencer’s resplendent style has always been the X-factor with his Blues Explosion, adding character to the soul-steeped rock and roll the trio creates. On Acme, the outfit’s latest album, his persona goes a long way toward making this one of the craftiest (and funkiest) JSBE albums in some time, equal parts murky Southern rock and near-comic gallantry. If only the songs were the equal of the execution. Spencer is at his most magnetic as a frontman when he plays the indignant soul belter. He croons, shouts, begs, and wails all over Acme – “Do You Wanna Get Heavy?” runs the gamut in a single song, no less – coming off as a cross between a Southern Baptist preacher and a hound-dog.

It’s all sweet and tangy, gritty and funky, right down to the way the trio’s sound is sparingly mixed. Spencer delivers “Magical Colors” in a laid-back vocal style that’s so tongue-in-cheek, it actually sounds sincere. Ironically, with its samples and dirty drum break, the backing track for “Talk About the Blues” is hip-hop inspired – a direct influence of the Automator (who produced Dr. Octagon’s acclaimed debut) behind the mixing boards. His touch is subtle, felt in the way he balances a hip-hop layering aesthetic with the trio’s need to sound raw. What they may lack in compositional savvy, Spencer and company make up for in flair – something rock music has lacked in recent times. Acme makes a persuasive argument that, sometimes, style alone can get you through when substance falls short.

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