Since moving to Chapel Hill in 2008 following a run playing piano, guitar and sax for the second incarnation of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, William Dawson has settled down. Or, at least, as much as he can: Dawson, a lifelong vagabond, drifted around Mississippi and Tennessee between a busking stint in Amsterdam, drumming in juke joints and helping engineer recordings by The Hives and Elvis Costello. Now he teaches music at a local elementary school and plays in Katherine Whalen’s Lucky and alongside pals like Justin Robinson of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Then there’s Dawson’s own deranged garage blues outfit, The Alcazar Hotel, named after the run-down Clarksdale inn where the band began. While last year’s laudable LP kept one foot firmly planted in Mississippi, Alcazar’s latesta 7″ released by the fledgling Chapel Hill imprint Grip Tapesstorms into the Motor City. Both of the two-minute bursts are possessed by the manic proto-punk intensity of Detroit’s legendary MC5, with Dawson’s shredded-larynx shouts bleeding into the red over searing guitar leads and growling two-string bass.
Between barroom piano and a melodic bass chug, Dawson cleverly builds the story of “Suicide King” around playing-card allusions: Along with the king, the queen of hearts and jack of spades have roles in his self-destructive house of cards. In “Stupid Feeling,” Dawson recounts the impulsive missteps of his youth above a propulsive disco beat and rubbery bass groove and wonders if the days of losing his head are over: “When you get old, do you start to figure it out?” he asks in the chorus, before worrying that the “stupid feeling” is creeping back.