'Round the Dial: Twangy young men
Wednesday 31 January @ 15:57:49
by TOM HALLETT
One (sometimes) positive thing about the inexorable, post-New Year slide into cabin fever, is that it gives a person lots and lots of time to think. Or to drink. Or, maybe, to do a bit of both. But everybody knows too much drinkin' with your thinkin' can cause you to start sinkin'. If you're quick enough, you can catch yourselfâ€”this time of year, it's definitely a smart move to learn to think or swimâ€”sorry, that probably sounds a lot funnier when you're either drunk or half-mad with cabin fever, but I think the point is made.
That being said, I've brought up the fact right here in this column more than once that, for some reason, one of the subjects I do a lot of thinking about is how, and where, and at what point along the line did I (and a passel of my musical compadres) learn to love back-porch, hoe-down pickin' and grinnin' right alongsideâ€”even back-to-back withâ€”punk, hard rock, metal, electronic spazz-mo rock, and quiet but powerful singer/songwriter stuff?
For me, I always thought it was when I discovered the outlaw country of Waylon & Willie and the boys. But come to think of it, the first country-style stuff I liked (lyrically) were the story-songs of guys like Johnny Horton and Bobby Bare, while the first country-tinged musical riff I can recall really, really liking enough to play over and over (on vinyl, weeee!!) was Charlie Pride's version of "(Is Anybody Goin' To) San Antone." The absolutely insistent fiddle break that pops in maybe three or four times during the tune and drives it along like a loco, weed-wacked cowpoke through the wind, rain and snow hooked me like a long-lost dawgie an' I started keepin' within hearing distance of the herd, if not in the thick of it.
Thereafter, I would, from time to time, take my leave of "country" music, shoot off into a fixation with British glam rock, or snappy American radio pop, or (at least in the '80s) hard rock, metal and punk. I guess somewhere along the line, once I got into making mixes for pals and (eventually) complete strangers, I realized that old Waylon, Charlie and Johnny Cash fit snugly up against a tune by T. Rex, Chicago's "25 Or 6 To 4," an early Judas Priest or Nazareth track or damn near any Clash cut.
Nowadays, of course, the lines between what I used to think of as "outlaw country," rock, pop and punk have blurred so irrevocably (thankfully) that my record collection (and my mixes) don't stand out quite so glaringly, especially among people a decade or so younger than myself. John Doe is right on the money with his quote this week, and while I've yet to hear a pub crawler howl out for one of his solo songs (great stuff!), I do get nearly as many requests for Johnny Cash, Waylon and Charlie Pride as I do for X, The Clash or T. Rex.
Not so many for old Chicago, though, I'm afraidâ€”though it's amazing to me how many self-professed music nuts don't know why that band's sound suddenly changed from growling-guitar-backed horn rock to sickly ballads. My suggestions? Read up on their history, and never play around with loaded 9mm pistols at drunken after-gig bashes. Anyways, I guess I'm just happy and feeling lucky that I'm able to soak up and cleanse my soul with a wide variety of music, and we've got a couple reviews this week from artists who probably have the same kinds of collections I do, but couldn't sound more different in their own ways ...
Lonely Road Home
Helmed by twentysomething San Franciscan singers/guitarists Pete Frauenfelder and Andrew Kerwin (along with Andrew's brother Steve on drums and original bassist Morgan, now replaced by Garritt), Trainwreck Riders' Lonely Road Home neatly bundles up a variety of influences (old-time mountain music, '60s cowboy rock Ă la The Byrds and Commander Cody, various '80s and '90s punk, Americana and indie rock) to complete a collection of ear-catching, foot-stomping urban barn-burners.
Known locally in the Bay area as a band that'll play literally anywhere, anytime, at the drop of a hat (they'll busk just for the reaction, play a rooftop party for a friend or pack a local hangout with equal enthusiasm), this energetic quartet manages to pull the best of their influences out at just the right moments, musically, while incorporating their own modern, original message and style.
Opener "Through Unto The End" rings out proud and trueâ€”Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Neil Young-style stompin', solid bottom end and vocals that recall (but don't mimic) early Modest Mouse. While it's true at times that when the 'Riders veer off down a country lane, they recall a hungry, Outpost Records-era Whiskeytown or a rawer version of the Old 97s, it's not hard to hear past the country skronk here and suss bits and pieces of the rattlesnake shimmy of The Meat Puppets, the pithy, no-bullshit 'tude of The Minutemen and the best of kindred souls like Rank And File.
"In The Wake Of It All" rolls, wiggles and stop-starts with all the shine of a Built To Spill ditty; "In And Out Of Love" eases in on a broken wing and an unheard prayer, then choogles and sputters to life, morphing into a rhythm-driven garage thumper that features eminently danceable grooves and spews catchy, machine-gun tempo lyrics.
One of the best examples of this band's awareness of their own contributions/place in today's increasingly "roots"-saturated music scene (besides the fact that any listener with half a heart couldn't help but identify with the lyrics to nearly every track here) has to be the aptly-titled "Old Timey Feeling," which finds the gang driving a Velvet Underground-ish nightclub number with a pair of Budweiser Clydesdales straight through the heart of that particular beast.
In the end, I'm left replaying "Find Your Way Home" over and over, not just because the tune reminds me of the pop-inflected rural vibes of the late Possibilities, but because here the band lets their figurative hair down, slaps that palomino in the ass, and leaves you with the truer-than-true couplet, "It's too late, to save yourself, it's too late, to save yourself ...." Raw, in-the-moment sounds that breathe new life into the inspirations they proudly display while still managing to forge fresh new ground, both musically and lyrically. A damn fine record. Check 'em out at trainwreckriders.com or alivenergy.com.
The Soundtrack To My Minneapolis
Local singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Stook (aka Joshua Stuckey), a transplanted Hoosier, makes no bones about where his loyalties lie on his debut albumâ€”he's managed to incorporate the similarities both of his particular geographical locales share while penning a veritable love letter to his adopted hometown and, especially, the people there.
Stook, who's well known locally on the acoustic scene, recruited a veritable band of ringers (Caleb Garn on bass, drummer Jordan Carlson and Toby Lee Marshall on a variety of instruments and backing vocals, as well as several special guests, including lauded vocalist Courtney Yasmineh) to flesh out his complex, almost-spiritual (and I mean that in the best possible sense) story-songs.
With tunes ranging from the baritone-laden opener "When It All Comes Crashing Down," which shuffles along on a hypnotic beat, teasingly features Marshall on the Hammond B-3 and leans towards a Steve Earle/Augie Meyers combo, to the delightful pop melancholy of "One Blue Teardrop" through the pounding rock majesty of "Deliverance From Your Eyes," TSTMM is a veritable smorgasbord of whip-smart lyricism, tasty, pleading vocals and absolute musical perfection.
There's not a song on this release I wouldn't listen to over and over, but the bouncy, shuffling closer "A Song Is More Than Just A Song" pretty much sums up both Stook's personal philosophy ("... and the radio played sad songs all night long / So she cried without tears / Reminded why she left by the songs ...") and where he's heading, musically: "So sing out loud, sing out loud ... won't you dance, won't you dance ... and those that laugh at us can all go straight to hell ... because you an' me babe, we've known it all along / A song is more than just a song ..." Kudos to Stook and the gang, great local stuff with more than a chance of catching on to a wider audience. Check 'em out at stookmusic.com.
That about wraps 'er up for this time out, gangâ€”tune in next week for more national and local reviews, culture-starved ramblings and wrecking ball philosophy. 'Til thenâ€”make yer own damn news.
If you have local gigs/CDs you'd like to see mentioned in this space, or you'd just like to know what's up wit' dat' ol' kosmic debris, send replies to: Tmygunn777@yahoo.com. ||