Wednesday 21 January @ 13:53:12
by Tom Hallett
Hey-ho, 'Dial-heads! I trust you're all keeping warm and comfy in your respective Hobbit-holes as winter digs her frost-encrusted nails deep into our collective psyches? Good, good! 'Cos I've got an album for ya this week that's sure to be the perfect companion for yon looming months of hibernation and liquid vacation.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We were always experimental. We weren’t just country. We were never just rock ‘n’ roll either.”
—Don Everly of the Everly Brothers
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Complication”
It's the rare recording that offers up the varied plate of aural delights that this one does, and the fact that every single song is fucking amazing makes this review even more of a joy to present to you.
It might be something in the soil, or the fact that the members of this band have steadfastly refused to even listen to the radio for more than a few minutes at a time over the last thirty years, but there's no doubt in my mind that Indiana farmers/rockers The Roach Brothers have created a genre/style/category of music all their own. Seriously, when you look up "eclectic" in yer Webster's New World, one of the definitions should be "Indiana farmers/rockers The Roach Brothers."
After three decades of writing and performing their own brand of "barn rawk" on their massive spread near Royal Center, Indiana, the bros wrote several songs, played on, and recorded parts of singer/songwriter Jack Logan's Bulk and Mood Elevator albums. After the hype around those releases had subsided a bit, the boys went on to release several instant classics of their own on Logan's Georgia-based Backburner label.
1998's Big Load album ranged from larger-than-life rock anthems to dreamy, outer-space ballads and silly country cut-ups, and 1999s Take Flight explored blues, funk, and soul veins. Meanwhile, their vaults continued to swell with the accumulated musical meanderings of 30+ years of recording.
Complicated Country Boys, the record I have in my hot little mitts right here, contains such a wide variety of grooves that if it weren't for the vox action, you'd think a different outfit cut each and every track. It's like the perfect mix CD, a song for every mood, minute, and occasion that might arise during the average, musically-motivated person's life.
But enough with the raves—let me introduce the band. Brothers Terry and Jamie Rouch are the backbone of the group, with other members whirling through like so many flighty Saturday night dance partners over the years. On this self-released collection of tunes—which, by the way, range from 20-year-old nuggets rescued from dusty DAT tapes to brand-spankin'-new classics-to-be—the boys are responsible for the origin of every song on the album, nearly every instrument played and every note sung. The rare exceptions are an appearance by lauded Indiana mandola/mandolin maestro Gary Wyatt and a mind-blowing blast of expert axe-work from the Twin Cities' own David Hazledine of Spikedriver, 10w40, Mammy Nuns and The Youngers fame. Awright, 'nuff said. I got some speakers to blow here, man...
The Roach Brothers
Complicated Country Boys
Bigger Than A Barn (2004)
Once in a blue moon, you find an album with a title that makes perfect sense—The Stooges' Raw Power, Black Sabbath's Heaven And Hell, etc.—and The Roachies' latest definitely falls into that category.
Kicking off with the bouncy, inviting (think Uncle Tupelo with the same amount of bibulous vigor and none of the exaggerated angst and slick production) acoustic guitar number "Hello," CCB immediately draws you into the brothers' delightfully skewed musical world: "Well, I remember you/Yeah, way back when/A thousand yesterdays/Yeah, we used to be friends/Well, hello, hello to you..." sings Jamie, and the ache behind those lines is so raw you'd have to be a corpse to not muster up at least a few goose bumps.
The title track eases out in a deceptively easy lope, with brother Terry layin' out the band's credo in a nutshell: "Nothin's black and white/For a complicated country boy/Everything's nuanced/Always get to askin' why/But his dreams are just dreams/And reality is not a dream/Complicated country boy..."
You can almost hear the gears grindin' in his head as the tractor wheels churn up fresh Indiana dirt and he dreams of his guitar, waitin' for him at home like a lonesome lover.
"When I Been Drinkin'," another Jamie number, seethes out of your speakers with a whiff of brimstone an' whiskey, the narrator nearly whispering over sultry, bluesy guitar licks and a wobbly rhythm line: "When I been drinkin'/Especially when I been drinkin'/I love you...with or without you..."
It's a sly, multilevelled lyrical bonanza, and leaves the listener unsure whether its author was penning an ode to a paramour or a bottle of Dewar's. Menacing axe shrieks and gut-wrenching screams of pain close the track, and you realize that it doesn't matter who or what the song was written for, it hurts like a motherfucker.
"Scampers Across My Mind," a Terry cut, is a soft, sad recollection of an auto accident that nearly took the life of a friend, laid out over howling guitars, high-lonesome keys, and heartbreak vocals: "Took a year, about a year/To get to where I could take it/The feelin' finally faded/Faded with time/But still inside, the feelin' kills me/Every time, it scampers across my mind..."
Wrapping around your head like some 'luded-out, Bizzaro-world pop song (in my world, that's a good thing), it conveys years of pain in less than a minute, clocking in at 59 seconds and leaving you scrambling for the back button on your CD player. Sublime.
Like I said, this album veers all over the musical map, both in style and subject matter, and the next few tracks bear that out. "Cold Cadillac" is an early AC/DC-style rocker, its author lamenting the fact that, although he's got a kickass car, it's too goddamned cold to enjoy it: "Mama hit the seat with a whoo!/An' a whoo!/It's cold/No heated garage, for my Cadillac..."
"Life Is Good," a Jamie track, is an up-tempo, feel-good country stomper: "Chicken in the pot/Pot on the stove/Stove is hot/Yeah, life is good/Well, life is good, life is good..." Using basic, earthy references, bright stand-up bass, and slappin' acoustic guitars, The Roachies have created a song here that could cheer ya up on your worst day in hell without ever stooping to cheese or hackneyed emotional hoo-hah—one of their strongest songwriting points.
"Whiskey Train" is just what you'd expect it to be—a dreamy, besotted paeon to that golden elixir—Jamie paying homage to the heady concoction with all the tenderness and devotion John Lennon might've offered Yoko in song back in the day: "Whiskey train, pullin' out of the station/Pickin' up steam, rollin' down the tracks/Final destination, the end of the line/Well, there ain't no turnin' back/Whiskey train, next stop, city of no pain..." Sharp, succinct acoustic pickin' and sighing, Mississippi-style slide guitar are your only companions on this journey, and lemme tellya, you won't mind a bit as the engine picks up steam and you leave winter behind for those warm little streams of whiskey.
I'd like nothing more than to run down each and every track on this album for ya'll—if only to just sit and hear such a marvelous collection of songs over and over again—but since it clocks in at 25 tracks (26 if you include the "hidden" track), I'd better just cover a few more of my absolute faves and hope like hell that I've conveyed to you just how great it really is.
"Turn Towards The Noise," a gorgeous, acoustic-driven ballad by Terry, includes both one of my favorite recent Roach song lyrics ("Does it have to be/Like heroin?") and a kickass flourish of electric guitar near the end courtesy of our own "Hazy" Dave Hazledine—another ridiculously talented Indiana native.
"Mind Lotion" is a hilarious, upbeat rocker that tells the story of one man's brush with driving, the law and liquor: "He didn't have much to say/'Cept that he'd been drinkin'/An' he's got to pay/Mind lotion, mind lotion..." If the state government of Indiana had a lick of sense, they'd adopt this song for their anti-DWI television ad campaigns. But that's a pretty big if, I guess, no matter what state yer talkin' about.
"Breathless (To Berlin, With Love)" is a perfect example of the band's near-complete insulation from modern pop culture, a heart-stoppingly beautiful instrumental ballad that almost, but not quite, follows the bass line from ’80s popsters Berlin's "Takes My Breath Away." The kicker here is that the song was written before that song was a hit, and the boys had no idea the two tunes were anything alike until a few months ago when they were putting the finishing touches on this record and somebody pointed it out. That also goes a long ways towards explaining why this band consistently delivers fresh, honest music with absolutely no pretense or hidden motives—they've never paid one whit of attention to what's on the poison airwaves of America.
"Race Of Kings," a Jamie ditty, is a majestic, mid-tempo rocker that incorporates multilayered guitars and glittering mandolin over hilarious lyrics that tell of a race of kings who have no jesters, armies, or queens. In other words, they're DOOMED, because they not only have no one to rule ("We're all royalty..."), but they can't procreate, either, being a race made up only of kings. "Don't expect us to be very nice..." warns Jamie. Phenomenal. I have to add that, although I'm confident the song's author had no intention of conveying this message, this tune could also be taken to represent our current administration's elitist stance—who ya gonna rule when you've wiped out all the serfs, eh, m' lord?
Other stand-outs include "Nobody Cares," a one-minute nod to a smattering of old gravestones brother Terry ran across while plowing one day, "It Makes Me Mad," a grinding, shake-able metal-fest that bro Jamie's already laughingly written dance steps for; "Try Three Way," a di-lysergic mini-drama that fairly drips of your spookiest LSD experience ("I tried a little tab of acid/On a Sunday in the woods/The sound of the earth/Didn't really sound that good..."); and "Chain Smoking," a hilarious anti-ciggie tune written by nonsmoking bro Terry, who nails the nasty addiction with all the wits an' grins of a modern-day Will Rogers.
The album winds up with "Stick A Fork In It," a grubby, grinding rockadelic number that defies categorization, and neatly wraps up the record's track listing—from the warm, friendly salutations of "Hello" to the greasy, ya'll-come-back-now-y'hear grooves of "Fork," you won't find a more perfect soundtrack for your winter trials and tribulations than Complicated Country Boys.
Take it from me—the crankiest, crabbiest, anti-winter music writer around these parts—this is one album you should have stocked up right next to your for-medicinal-purposes-only bottle of whiskey, yer seeds n' stems, your candles, your hand warmers, and your long johns. It's really the only music you'll need 'til spring rolls around, as far as I'm concerned.
The truth is (despite the fact that they've been featured on national news programs and are continually hosting a veritable army of musicians at their recording studio, Big As A Barn), this band couldn't care less about radio exposure, celebrity, or national recognition. They don't think twice about record reviews, critics, or "talent scouts." They just wanna write, play, and record new music EVERY FUCKING DAY!!
And the only audience they give a damn about is YOU—people who dig cool, underground tune-age and read weird, alternative weekly music columns like Round The Dial. Taking all of that into account, I can't think of a band I know who deserves MORE exposure and MORE listeners.
So do yourselves a favor—send a check or money order for $12 to The Roach Brothers, 600 East 9746 South, Royal Center, Indiana 46978, and pick up your own limited edition copy of this album before they're all gone. These guys record around 20 songs a month, so act fast or I'll be reviewing something entirely different from 'em before ya know it!
That's it for me this week, ladeez an' jumblemen. Tune in again next time for more of THIS STUFF! Until then—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to offer me a free February trip to Amsterdam, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com.