By Eric Kamm Published January 1, 2011
Good records are few and far between these days. Reflecting back on this past year, there is one record and two songs written by two different groups that I can recommend with confidence. The passion and sincerity of these two groups can still spark a little light in my cold dead heart, much like a cigarette lighter flickering in a completely dark room that never lights. No, I take that back, the tracks "Birthday Boy" and "The Queen Of Lower Chelsea" do get my blood pumping.
My favorite record of the year was The Drive By Truckers The Big To Do. This is a band from the Southeast who has two new releases on the horizon--a full length called Go-Go Boots, in addition to a new documentary on the band entitled The Secret to a Happy ending. The documentarty will focus on "the redemptive power of rock and roll." Believe me, I saw them perform at The Fillmore in May, and even as they sound-checked, hours before the doors opened, they were playing their hearts out. They dig their Skynrd and Neil Young while shootin' whiskey, they're great storytellers of the grotesque, and they're not about to apologize for any of it. Around a year ago the band recorded 25 tracks at one time and released 13 of those songs on The Big To Do. They will place the remaining tracks on their upcoming release Go-Go Boots (to be released February 15th). "Birthday Boy," the track that you would most likely label their single off The Big To Do, is a great song. How they recorded the tune is just as exciting (more on that later). But...if you are going to check out this group, I would recommend beginning with the records Decoration Day and The Dirty South, then simultaneously moving forward and backward in their discography. Believe me, it's all good. The Big To Do felt to me like the Drive By Truckers telling Southern stories accompanied by a great soundtrack. The record is solid and consistent--it's a tortoise, not a hare (which is why I don't think it would be as good of an introduction to the band as some of their other works). But, I'm going to move on now because I'll soon be posting an entire article on drummer Brad Morgan.
My other favorite track came off The Gaslight Anthem's American Slang. The song "The Queen Of Lower Chelsea" finds drummer Ben Horowitz playing on rims of his drums for part of the tune, and laying down a beautiful pocket. Like Brad Morgan, Horowitz plays for the song. He said in the September 2010 issue of DRUM! that "anything I do is always based on some kind of gut reaction based on what I'm hearing. If my process has changed at all I'd say it's more cerebral now than it used to be. I'm a lot more conscious of the flow of the song and fitting in with other people, finding my place in the arrangement. I definitely think about that stuff a lot more. Working with producers probably opened my eyes to that level of song writing that I wasn't exposed to before." Horowitz puts his money where his mouth is on his latest.
I love the lyrics to "The Queen Of Lower Chelsea," I love the descending bass line at the end of each verse, I love the catchy guitar work, I love how Horowitz puts ego aside and lays down a creative groove for the song (including the cool drum break in the middle of the song), and I really appreciated vocalist Brian Fallon's sincere note to the listener in the liner notes of the record. Fallon thanks his audience for enabling him to play music. "When I was a kid," Fallon writes "I wanted to play guitar and sing songs...I'll never forget that you all helped me along the way." The title track to the record also hits in the right place--I especially liked how the band bridged the first chorus into the second verse on this opening track.
Producer Ted Hut is worth mentioning too (since Horowitz brought him up). He appears to be Side One Dummy's go-to producer and engineer, and for good reason. My first exposure to him was his work with Flogging Molly, where the sounds he captures tend to have a dynamic range and raw quality to them. American Slang is no exception. I wondered what advice he might have had for Horowitz and the rest of the band on the two tracks mentioned above...
Anyhooo...have a Happy New Year! -Kamm December 31, 2010.
Eric Kamm writes about jazz and punk drumming.