Dance crazes will come and go. Rock musicians will alternately grow their hair long and shave it off, according to fashion dictates. Entire new genres of music will spring up out of the fertile imaginations of urban youths and various far-flung, style-hopping experimentalists. And all the while roots rockers such as Boston's Radio Kings will continue to roll on down the road, practicing music that hasn't changed much since it was invented by the likes of James Burton and Carl Perkins back in the Fifties.
Oh sure, roots rock has flirted with fits of popularity. But widespread acceptance, big-bucks music videos, and the trappings of superstardom are not what the Radio Kings and their ilk are about. Playing their hearts out in sweaty nightclubs while singing sagas of gin-soaked barroom queens and vintage American automobiles is more their meat. And finding their way into a recording studio once in a while to exorcise a few demons.
Radio Kings Brian Templeton (vocals, harmonica, accordion), Michael Dinallo (guitars), and Bob Christina (drums, cardboard box) certainly get spirited on Money Road, the group's Bullseye debut, which follows two previous releases on Memphis indie Icehouse Records. It is with a well-practiced hand that this threesome -- with help from another half-dozen or so friends and studio musicians, including Fabulous Thunderbirds touring drummer Fran Christina (Bob's brother) -- adds to the legacy of roadhouse rock and blues.
The group shuffles up to cruising speed right from the get-go. Album-opener "I Can't Win" cashes in on familiar themes with its Texas-size guitar riffs and gruff vocals. Templeton's effective single-note melody line midway through the song expertly builds tension for the rough-and-ready harmonica solo that follows. The band gets the good-time groove going for real on track two, "Virginia," a tune that wheels through love-struck choruses like a convertible through the desert. Horns and harmonica, snaky guitar solos, and Templeton's smooth whiskey voice keep the eleven-track, 44-minute disc rolling, despite the occasional, obligatory shifts into low gear on "My Day of Reckoning" and "The Shelf." (1 Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140)
-- Adam St. James
Radio Kings perform at 9:00 p.m. April 8 and 9 at Zappie's Bar and Tackle, 99246 Overseas Hwy (mile marker 99), Key Largo; 305-451-0531. Admission is free.
13 Other Dimensions
(My Own Planet/Caroline)
Puppet bands have always been a part of the music industry, ever dependent on the talent and benevolence of the man behind the curtain. The Giraffes, however, are a front of a different kind. Their legend is a delicious bit of mischief cooked up by the fertile, free-ranging mind of Chris Ballew, former lead singer-songwriter for the now-defunct Presidents of the United States of America. Ballew may be the perpetrator of everything heard on the Giraffes' debut CD, 13 Other Dimensions, but he is alluded to in the press notes only as "the Archivist," a man who supposedly discovered a bunch of lost recordings made by a group of "hotel-lobby jazz puppets led by a father-and-son team of wild monkeys" back in the Seventies. The joke extends to the musicians' credits, which include "Giraffe" on lead vocal and rhythm guitar, "Chickey" the earless rabbit on drums, "Munkey Sr." on lead guitar, "Munkey Jr." on horns and strings, a bear named "Barry Lowe" on two-string basitar, and duck-on-wheels "Yoko Glick" on piano, organ, and clavinet.
Ballew is all of the Giraffes; he recorded it on his home eight-track setup in Seattle. He achieves nice fidelity for a purposely lo-fi effort. The CD has a big, colorful, cartoony sound, and Ballew's tightly wound rhymes and lively melodies are as crisp as the ones he made with the Presidents.
On 13 Other Dimensions Ballew plays Willy Wonka, offering up a rich, edible-sounding landscape dotted with chewy woodland scenery, candy-coated pop, salty wisecracks, and dangerously appealing bubble-gum hooks. And like Charlie in the chocolate factory, the listener gains greater rewards by suspending disbelief than by trying to analyze the whimsical proceedings.
The album opener, "Chocolate Dimension," sets the tone for what follows, as throbbing, fuzz-tone guitar and spacy lyrics merge to form a dusty-sounding gem that could have been lifted from the soundtrack to the Banana Splits TV show. "Lonely Chicken" casts Ballew's favorite bird as a cool nomadic antihero in a story set to dark electric piano and a traveling beat. And "Hopeless (Rub It In)" is a fizzy pop-rock ode to cool-cat keyboard players that cuts a deeper groove than clogs on shag carpet.
But hands down the best cut is "Every Crocodile," its lonely melody and mournful acoustic strumming escalating into a Beatles' "I Am the Walrus"-style fog, complete with abstruse imagery, remote vocals, and bleating, creeping electric guitar lines.
The hopelessly mature listener may cite this collection as proof that Ballew needs to get out of the house more often, but those who champion cultural influences such as Zoom, Schoolhouse Rock, and Dynamite magazine will surely appreciate the proceedings. (P.O. Box 95921, Seattle, WA 96145)
-- Robin Myrick