'Round the Dial
Wednesday 24 July @ 11:47:01
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Put the screws on me, and I’m gonna screw right back. I’m tired of that %@!#$&, you know?”
SONG OF THE WEEK:
“Jump Into The Fire” by Nilsson
Welcome to part two of our ongoing series on Georgia-based indie record label Backburner. Last week, we met the owners and operators, and this time ‘round we’ll begin reviewing/commenting on the label’s releases in chronological order:
The Roach Brothers
Terry Rouch—guitars, vocals, etc.
Jamie Rouch—drums, guitars, vocals, etc.
Dirk Shorter—bass (3 tracks)
Trudy Cavey—backing vocals (1 track)
Bob Kimbell—backing vocals.
Tim Tobias—keyboards (1 track)
Produced by Jamie Rouch at Big As A Barn.
Track Listing: Workin’ With Bob/Cool Or Cold/I Can’t Wait/Red-Eyed Devil’s Daughter/Empty Sky/Smoke Will Clear/Small Suitcase/Saw/She’s Done/My Brain’s Too Small/Won’t Say I’ve Never Tried/Driftin’
Terry and Jamie Rouch, the founders and mainstays of Indiana rockers The Roach Brothers, have been playing, writing and recording music for over 30 years. They run Big As A Barn Studios in Royal Center, a little town hidden amongst the ubiquitous corn fields of the region. There, they’ve recorded their own material, Bob Kimbell, The Dashboard Saviors, Jack Logan’s Mood Elevator, parts of Jack and Kimbell’s first collaboration, Little Private Angel, and scads more. They contributed a track to and performed on Logan’s debut, Bulk, and have opened for him on tour several times. Since ‘98, they’ve released three records for Backburner, including Big Load, Take Flight in 1999, and Pure And Simple in 2000.
Born and bred so far from scenes, trends, and sub-genres, the siblings present a refreshing, unspoiled take on traditional American guitar rock, and combine their musical roots (blues, classic country, ‘60’s garage/guitar-thrash from The Kinks and Stones, Zappa’s quirky schtick) with whatever filters through the studio from passers-by and friends. Their sound is a delicious amalgam of those influences, and each album they’ve released finds their music mutating and progressing in fantastic leaps and bounds. They recorded a limited-edition vinyl album under the monicker The Atomic Bums in the ‘80’s, but this album, Backburner’s first proper release, is considered the Roach Bros. official debut.
Kicking off with the positively scathing axe-play of “Workin’ With Bob,” (the tune for which also doubled as the theme for Peter Jesperson’s now-defunct radio program, Shakin’ Street) a snarling, street-wise ditty about workin’, drinkin’, and hittin’ the strip joints. “Cool Or Cold” finds the band backing off a bit from the fire; a contemplative, melancholy slice of dream-pop, the song is a perfect example of how the brothers’ straight-forward, non-judgemental approach to rock and roll absolutely plows under better-known national releases from a lot of their generational peers. “I don’t see what’s all around me/Is this cool or is this cold?” asks head Roach Terry, and you can’t help but cheer that it’s a little of both.
The record contains a smidgeon of just about every genre of popular music you can think of—“I Can’t Wait” is a dirty, slippery blues jaunt, “Red Eyed Devil’s Daughter” a trippy, post-psychedelic romp through the subjects of modern-day violence and social plasticity (“My baby’s fightin’/Down at the 7-11”) replete with killer harmonies and more than a dash of smart-ass, down-home humor. “Empty Sky” is a balls-out rocker, a sonic scream to the universe with an axe solo that’d peel the paint off the newest John Deere in your barn. “Small Suitcase” is a heart-warming, old-school picker, “She’s Done” (about knockin’ off an obnoxious girlfriend and hiding the body) and “My Brain’s Too Small” are Zappa/Beefheart-esque larfs, and “Won’t Say I’ve Never Tried” a shimmering, inspiring ode to, well, inspiration that would be done equal justice whether sung by Terry Rouch, Hope Sandoval, or Johnny Cash. Superb songwriting, playing, and biting, on-the-money social commentary combines to make this a four-star debut from a band that only gets better every time they walk in the studio.
Comments from Backburner staff on The Roach Bros.’ Big Load album:
Jack Logan: “I’m addressing The Roach Brothers’ records all at once because Pure & Simple is my favorite Backburner record, and I need to put it into context with their first two. I go way-yy back with these guys, and the tapes of their 4-track (Teac 1/4” reel-to-reel!!) stuff that they made for me way-back-when amazed and influenced me as much as any music ever did. Both Big Load and Take Flight are really good records that are full of Jamie and Terry Rouch’s deceptively unique and incredible songwriting, but somehow, they just didn’t reach the Godhead status that those early tapes held in my mind.
“Now, this is unfair for a number of reasons: Some things you hear never lose their power simply because of WHEN in your life you hear them. So I was thrilled when I first heard Pure And Simple—it has everything I loved about those old cassettes. A perfect ratio of Jamie to Terry songs, the playing has a casual-yet-inspired quality to it, and instead of the tight, defined set of songs contained on the first two discs, it kind of meanders along in an extremely wonderful way, revealing little surprises at every turn...just like those old cassettes did.”
Kelly Keneipp & Nikki Keneipp: “All Rouch Brothers: These guys are some of our oldest friends—they taught us how to record. They’re fantasic musicians, great songwriters really cool, down-to-earth guys...need we say more?”
That’s all we have room for this week, folks. Tune in next time for reviews and commentary on releases by The Possibilities and ex-Dashboard Savior Rob Veal. Until then—make yer own damn news.