I utterly, completely love the head-on collision that's been going on lately between snarling, four-chords-and-distortion punk and raw-throated, hard-drinking roots-rock. It's probably been going on for longer than I'm aware of, sure, but these days it seems to be boiling right beneath the surface, and I'm psyched as hell about it. The combination of ragged voices, Uncle Tupelo-meets-Springsteen guitars, genuine melancholy (and smirking sarcasm, to boot), and damn fine songwriting with the fire, distortion, and screw-everything attitude of punk rock works for me in a way I honestly wouldn't have guessed would be possible.
I find myself digging stuff like this more and more -- it's like somebody's finally discovering that perfect way to strip all the inane, boring, stereotype-heavy cowboy crap I'd always hated out of country music and left only the best parts, the parts worth listening to. Or, heck, maybe they just combined Hüsker Dü with Steve Earle and drank it down fast in the dim light of some dingy honky-tonk bar.
With the above in mind, tonight's excellent-sounding i.am.we.commUNITY-organized show up at Walter's on Washington reads like a who's who of this whole raw-country thing (I refuse to call it "cowpunk," particularly since very little of this stuff has a damn thing to do with cows, and "alt-country" has way too much baggage). The lineup includes these folks:
Joey Cape: Some might remember Joey Cape from his days in a teeny little band called Lagwagon (not to mention Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, the band singularly responsible for making me like Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline"). These days, though, he's headed down the same road as fellow punks Tim Barry (ex-Avail) and Chuck Ragan (ex-Hot Water Music), going acoustic & re-discovering his country/folk roots. I'm not real familiar with his music, unfortunately, but what little bit I've heard is pretty darn good -- it's gentle, gloomy, and jangly, more folky than anything else, and showcasing a surprisingly sweet voice. Kind of a low-key melding of Iron & Wine dynamics with Rocky Votolato emo-folk-ness, and it works fairly well.
Jon Snodgrass: Jon Snodgrass is also an "ex-..." guy, but he's a little closer to the general sound I'm talking about to begin with, seeing as the band he used to front ('til their breakup in 2007), Drag the River, is/was a pretty prime example of the countrified rock thing. (Heck, they're also a prime example of the punk-gone-country thing, since members of DtR came from Armchair Martian, ALL, & The Nobodys...) Snodgrass solo still sounds quite a bit like his old band, to my ears, albeit a bit more laid-back and "straight" country than rock, with a nicely Steve Earle-esque voice and some sweet mandolin & banjo parts. He can still crank up that not-too-distorted guitar, though, and that's a good thing...
Cory Branan: It feels weird to say it, but the only reason I've ever even heard of Austinite Cory Branan is because of country/roots-rockers Lucero, who name-check the guy in their excellent song "Tears Don't Matter Much," claiming that "Cory Branan's got an evil streak." And they're dead-on -- you can practically hear the wicked grin on tracks like "Miss Ferguson" and "Prettiest Waitress in Memphis," the whip-smart lyrics delivering a backhand even as he laughs. Seriously, with songwriting chops so good they occasionally make me sit back and shake my head in amazement, this guy has quickly risen to the top of my personal pile of favorite country-rockers, right up there next to the guys in Lucero themselves.
HoboMouth: Never heard these Austin boys 'til now, but they're definitely interesting; the songs are less "country" and more like scratched-voice emo-pop, really, once you get past the vocals & guitars, and I'm enjoying it so far. At least one of the guys in the band also does Rollins-ish poetry, apparently, so there might be some of that at the show tonight. (And no, it ain't bad.)
Details time: the cover's $10, and the doors open at 8PM. It's gonna be good, I swear.
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