Bob Wire’s Antidote to Neutered Rock

By BOB WIRE

I’ve had to replace the radio preset buttons on my car stereo three times in the last ten years. And I’m just about ready for a new set again.

These six buttons are constantly being pushed, stabbed at, slapped, pounded, flicked and punched whenever I’m behind the wheel. There are several listenable radio stations in Missoula, but no matter what I have tuned in, some deal-breaker will come on within ten minutes, guaranteed.

The college station in particular seems to pride itself on cueing up the most uncomfortable juxtapositions. They’ll lull you with a Neko Case alt-country rocker, followed by a vintage Lou Reed tune, and then—BAM. Some death metal sludge that sounds like Queens of the Stone Age covering a Cowsills song using only construction equipment and a fax modem.

The main problem, to me, is that rock and roll is systematically being neutered. The main offenders seem to have wormed their way into the playlist of my favorite station, an eclectic rock station that features local artists and local events, as well as interviews with Missoula movers and shakers. It’s aural Facebook for when I’m driving my SUV around aimlessly, alone, pondering the twin crises of fossil fuel shortages and our society’s addiction to oil.

But without fail, some featherweights like Mumford and Sons will come plinking onto the airwaves with their banjos and snappy vests, and I will reflexively punch a preset button—any button—just to get away from that twee bullshit. Bands like the Lumineers, the Civil Wars, Bon Iver, Good Old War, Edwin Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros (jeez, the names can be almost as fussy as the music) seem to be chasing each other’s tails, trying to see who can come up with the most lightweight, forgettable music. It trickles out of my speakers, filling the cab like so much audio packing peanuts.

Pop music? Forget it. Producers are more famous than the singers now, and music made by computers is just tedious. Sure, I could just plug in my iPod, but like I say, I do like to keep my thumb on the local pulse. And I want to do it via radio, but I like my rock music delivered with a big helping of cojones.

I want to share with you a few new artists who make music with a big swingin’ pair. They are all women. So if you’re a little burned out on meandering confections like “Ho Hey” and boring pseudo-folkies like Grizzly Bear (“What’s an omnichord?” “I don’t know but we need one!”), I urge you to check out the music by these sisters who are doin’ it for themselves.

Eilen Jewell1. Eilen Jewell. My guitar-slinging buddy David turned me onto this slinky singer’s CD “Queen of the Minor Key,” and it immediately made me prick up my ears. The music is rootsy and honest, and the songs are quirky and solidly written. Literate even. But it’s Eilen’s voice that hooks you. She’s like Gillian Welch without the self-conscious dustbowlquaver.

Lyrics like “I drive through that town sometimes / Just to see if you still live there / I think I see you once in a while / I practice looking like I don’t care” have me shaking my head, while rhythmic movers like “Bang Bang Bang” get me to shaking my tailfeathers.

 

Bob Wire has a point. 2. Alabama Shakes. Brittney Howard is a throwback, a soul shouter who chunks away on her SG while leading these garage rockers through a lusty and loud collection of guitar stompers. It’s straight-up rock and roll pushed through a soul grinder that recalls the shaggier offerings of James Brown and Otis Redding. When she reaches for that stratospheric holler, it’ll make your hair stand on end and your backboneslip.

 

3. The Whiskey Sisters. I read a review of their debut CD in Guitar Player Magazine, and gambled $13 in the hopes that it wouldn’t be another bland Nashvegas product. I was rewarded with some of the best roots/country/rock guitar I’ve heard since I stumbled across the Mother Truckers a few years back (tellingly, another recommendation from David).

WhiskeySis

Austin “sisters” Teal Collins and Barbara Nesbitt have put together one of the most pure fun albums of the year. The songwriting is capable if not extraordinary, but it provides a framework for endlessly pleasing harmonies and great vocal hooks. Try to get the earworm chorus of “Talk It Out” out of your brain.

The expressive, elastic guitar work and rock-ribbed rhythm section elevate the Whiskey Sisters out of the pop-country template directly into the roadhouse raunch of the Georgia Satellites and Drive-By Truckers. I shouldn’t be surprised, as the guitar mayhem is provided by Josh Zee, the very gunslinger who gave the Mother Truckers their hard-rocking country edge.

Kacey4. Kacey Musgraves. Her CD’s title “Same Trailer Different Park” might produce expectations of some faux white trash posturing a la Miranda Lambert or Gretchen Wilson, but the very first line of the first song, “Silver Linings,” feels more authentic than the entire catalogs of some of those Nashville posers. Musgraves writes like she spent her awkward teen years listening to Lucinda Williams and Tom Waits while putting cigarette burns in her family photos. This is songwriting that gives the listener credit for having some brains, and she sings about trailer living without a speck of irony. Dig this lyric from “My House,” the best mobile-lifestyle song since Southern Culture on the Skids’ “My House HasWheels”:

“So come on hitch your wagon / To the living room I’m draggin’ / If I can’t bring you to my house, I’ll bring my house to you.”

I cued this album up on a recent road trip, and Barb gave it the ultimate thumbs up by having me play “Stupid” three times in a row.

Imelda5. Imelda May. This Irish rockabilly queen actually does get a fair amount of airplay on my favorite station, and hopefully it’s spurred others besides me to buy her album “Mayhem.” If you’ve seen her YouTube videos, you’ll recognize her as the vintage chanteuse encased in a slinky dress, fronting the killer rockabilly three-piece, white-streaked hair spiraled high and lips as red as the devil’s asscheeks.

“Mayhem” showcases her powerhouse voice with clever, lean-and-mean rockabilly rompers like “Psycho” and “Inside Out.” Darrel Higham dishes out big, reverby slabs of Gretch licks, while Dave Priseman’s trumpet sends the songs into the stylistic stratosphere.

The self-produced album gives May a chance to display her emotional range, going from hiccupy gigglers like “Sneaky Freak” to the sweet, restrained beauty of “Kentish Town Waltz.” A spirited cover of “Tainted Love” is an added bonus to an already satisfying collection of songs sung with fearsome authority and dripping with sex.

If you’re disappointed in the current direction of rock music, with its precious and fussy bands of Salvation Army-dressed folk hippies trying to out-Mumford each other, take a walk over to the distaff side and give these ladies a listen. They’re bringing balls back to rock and roll.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blogarchive.

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Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an openmind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.

 

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