This week's reviews...
As leaders of modern pop bands go, Doug Mace and Dan Olivas of Boomgates not only seem more intelligent and approachable than the notorious Gallagher brothers of Oasis, they’re also more inventive. At a time when several English groups are gaining attention for their revisionist turns on the British Invasion sound, Boomgates’ debut suggests that the trend need not be limited to people with Cockney accents. Indeed, this Nashville-based band has created a richly textured album that draws on several eras of crafty English guitar pop. A Beatles influence runs thick through the album’s 15 original songs, but there’s also a Yardbirds-like urgency in “Heart Full of Money” and “Birth,” and XTC-like layers and twists surface in “Carnival Absurd” and “Fear.”
Across the album, the quartet balances power-chord aggression with melodic agility. In the process, they manage to update classic rock without indulging in clichés and predictability. Their songs never follow expected paths, instead supplying novel surprises like the effects-laden snarl that blends with a sweet tenor in “Primitive Fish,” the imaginatively raucous guitar that energizes the punk tempos in “Birth,” or the wayward whistle that closes “Making an Airplane.” The music sounds carefully constructed without sacrificing any of its garage-band immediacy. The record was no doubt a labor of love for the band and for studio pros Jack Irwin and Herb Tassin, who helped out along the way.
Boomgates have hidden out for the past couple of years while working on their album, but they’ve recently begun making regular local club appearances again. Mace, Olivas, drummer Joe Polenzani, and bassist Jerry Hager will celebrate their new album with a performance Saturday, Aug. 3, at Guido’s.
The Bum Steers (Western Beat)
Southern California is known as a font of alternative country performers, whether they be peyote traditionalists like The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers or urbane honky-tonkers like Dwight Yoakam and Rosie Flores. More recently, however, bands from this part of the country have shown more a commercial flavor. The Bum Steers, part of the Palomino Club scene in Los Angeles, are a perfect example; they straddle the barbed wire fence between Nashville formulas and West Coast progressiveness. Like the Desert Rose Band and Boy Howdy before them, they strike a harder country groove than Diamond Rio or Shenandoah; yet the songwriting is Music Row tight and built upon breezy, catchy themes that would sound at home on country radio.
The band doesn’t mind wading into the commercial waters of silly wordplay or lightweight novelties, as displayed on their current alternative radio single “NatKingColePorterWagonerSortOfThing” and the equally obvious “Why, Nona?” The humor of “Half & Half,” a bluegrass-tinged song about an acid casualty, stands up better to repeated listenings, as does the bluesy “Normal Guy,” a wonderful song about a fellow who has a thing for colorful but unstable women. The band works best, however, when bouncing through weightier fare such as “Smokin’ & Drinkin’ “ and “Devil Disguised As Me.”
Singer Mark Fosson has a stout voice, and he livens up the songs with his casual, theatrical style. Unlike some of their Nashville brethren, the Bum Steers do play on the album, swinging through their numbers with crisp energy. Drummer Billy Block is a recent Nashville transplant; in his role as ringmaster of the weekly Western Beat Barn Dance, he has helped add a new vitality to Nashville’s live country-music menu. Given the chance, the Bum Steers could add a similar dose of loose, freewheeling fun to country radio.
Darrell Scott, Aloha From Nashville (JustUs)
On “Banjo Clark,” the second song from Darrell Scott’s self-distributed CD, the burly-voiced singer audaciously updates an old folk standard. Tearing the song apart and making it his own, Scott performs with the cocksure command of an old bluesman and the brazenness of a strutting young rocker. His combination of agelessness and modernity proves that traditional music can still be a bottomless well of inspiration for those with the confidence and the ability to retool the material to fit their own personalities.
Possessing a full baritone that blends the machismo of Dave Olney with the melancholy slyness of John Gorka, Scott uses bold arrangements that combine potent acoustic blues with the rollicking tension of fiddles, mandolins, dulcimers, and banjos. Along with studio colleagues Verlon Thompson and Miles Wilkinson, he has smartly recruited percussion specialist Kenny Malone, whose rhythms enhance the hauntingly mystical sound of Scott’s best songs. The singer can swing, as he does on “Head South,” or flash an exuberant, Van Morrison-like lilt, as he does on “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive.” But his best songs tread darkly, sometimes with good-natured humor, as on the wonderful “Ballad of Martha White,” and sometimes with a much more sinister tone, as on “You Will Never Leave Harlan Alive.”
The album only falters toward the end, when Scott tries to work his creative magic on formulas more familiar to Music Row. “Spelling Bee Romance” relies on tired stereotypes as it tells of a guy who falls for a woman who loves wrestling, CMT, and country dancing. “Life Is Cheap,” about a single mother, and “Heartbreak Town,” about a couple looking for opportunity in a new city, fail to add anything new to well-traveled topics. Scott ends the album with a satirical jab at Music Row songwriting, but it would have greater impact if the singer weren’t also trying his hand at retooling the very same formulas. As Scott shows on the first seven songs of Aloha From Nashville, he’s too full of ideas to be following someone else’s recipe for success.
There were plenty of jumps and screams at the severed-head reveal at the Sunday night…
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…
So long Don. Your creative energy and encouragement were inspirational to me.
It was so great being one of those kids in Dayton.
I miss Iodine.
^ It's nice to see an official acknowledgement by management. Kristen Mcarther Miles (the girl…