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By Lauren Wise
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By Amanda Savage
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With new stuff on the way from Chicken, Truckers on Speed, the Pistoleros, the Piersons and Big Blue Couch, the remainder of this year offers no shortage of highly anticipated local roots and rock releases.
Before the aforementioned fall/winter platters hit, we'll get a couple of offerings from Dave Insley and Jeff Farias' Valley-based Rustic Records (www.rusticrecords.com). The label, you will recall, was unveiled in January with the Nitpickers' self-titled debut and The White Album from country songstress Tammy Patrick.
That first pairing merely served as an appetizer for the company's two forthcoming releases, the double debuts of the Trophy Husbands and Grave Danger. The latter disc (a joint venture between Rustic and Dave Ramsey's Truxton Records, home to Flathead) is set for an early October release, while the Trophy Husbands' intro makes its way onto store shelves this week.
Grave Danger, which includes local vet Kevin Daly, Rich Merriman (Rumble Cats) and Vince Ramirez (Flathead), is putting the finishing touches on its eponymously titled live-in-the-studio record. In the past, Bash & Pop has tagged the group as a psycho-surfabilly outfit. However, if recent performances -- such as last week's mondo-drunk-and-destructive appearance at a Tempe festival -- are any indication, the trio may be trying to forge its own unique genre: "pillage-and-pass-out-on-the-lawn rock."
Meanwhile, the (slightly) more sedate Trophy Husbands -- featuring Insley, Farias, Daly and Tom Post -- have readied their 12-song debut, Dark and Bloody Ground.
The bulk of the Husbands' disc is a loosely knit conceptual piece tied together by the crimson-hued artwork of Bob Boze Bell (which graces the cover and insert) and liners that take their inspiration from the late 19th-century range war that erupted in Arizona's Tonto Basin. The balance of songs traipses the kind of musical territory that should invite the interest of the Valley's hot-rod and pompadour set.
The cars, guns and outlaw opus opens, ironically enough, with an unapologetic pop song called "Everybody Knows." Though it seems a bit incongruous, Daly's charging, tongue-in-cheek love anthem kicks off the proceedings nicely. The track (as well as "She Don't Love You") showcases Daly's deceptively skilled sense for songcraft, an aspect of his work that has often been obscured by his wildman antics.
The lightheartedness of the opener is quickly abandoned for the ominous narrative of the title track. The Spanish guitar motif and fiddle that thread the song reinforce the foreboding wordplay ("They shouldn't have grazed there/Wasn't his land/. . . Won't the sun ever go down on this dark and bloody ground?") that mines the lore of the notorious Pleasant Valley War. The 1880s conflict took the lives of at least 20 men over a five-year period and branded the souls of the area's inhabitants for generations.
The historical or saga song, once a rich vein of American songwriting -- finding its heyday in the late '50s and early '60s work of Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton and Johnny Cash -- long ago fell into the category of the lost art form. Dark and Bloody Ground -- while also making way for other stylistic concerns -- authoritatively recaptures the spirit and tenor of genre watersheds like Cash's Ballads of the True West and Robbins' underrated The Drifter.
The disc continues with "Willie," a dying gunfighter's apologia for a life spent on the business end of a Colt. Cast against the warm, languid guitar is a stream of lyrical imagery that pulls a thematic abstraction from the John Wayne cinematic swan song The Shootist ("So now I must be leaving/All the things time will destroy/. . . But I'm disappearing so fast into the void").
Before things turn too serious, we get Daly's revved-up reading of his own "Cadillac" -- a live-show favorite -- and a song with just enough clever phrase turns ("I spend enough cash on that Cadillac to build a new one out of parts/Every time I fix that son of a Pontiac, well, she's broken down again") to it push out of the realm of novelty and into blissful world of the three-chord romp.
Midway through the disc, it becomes apparent that the Trophy Husbands' aim is essentially to split the difference between the back-porch ethos and good-timey country feel of the Nitpickers and the over-the-top psychobilly anthemics of Grave Danger.
The track that illustrates that synthesis best is the truck-drivin' braggadocio of Ray King's "Big Wheel." Insley's big, grinning baritone finds both the cockiness and outlandish comedy in the lyrics: "Every truckstop I go in they turn the jukebox low/'Cause I'm the one who calls the tunes wherever I go/And while the girls fight over who's gonna bring me my meal/I sit back and drink my coffee black, Big Wheel."
Insley has plied his trade in town for so long -- since the late '70s -- and in so many incarnations, you almost forget what a truly gifted singer he is. In "Just Call Me Lonesome," his beaten-dog croon ("I wander a-l-ooone") turns various shades of wistful, hurt and melancholy before returning to the chorus and Nitpicker mate Jim Borick's bolstering, back-from-the-mike harmony.
Whether flashing various emotional colors or paying homage to their musical ancestry, Insley and Daly have a rare appreciation for and command of the nuances of country phrasing and storytelling. They're the kind of guys who've spent endless hours studying every inflection found on the long players of Jimmy Martin and Joe Maphis, and they have put that informal education to good use.
Musically, the bulk of the dozen songs stay within the confines of a laid-back country groove. The rhythm of drummer (and musical chameleon) Tom Post -- he doubles in Greg Simmons' Royal Normans on guitar -- and bassist Jeff Farias (who also provides the "Ghost Riders in the Sky" vocal gloom of "Cowboy Justice") go about their business quietly, never intruding on the proceedings.
Farias and Insley's tasteful production solidifies the sound with deft touches of choral harmonies, meaty top-string twang and familiar shuffle beats, elements that help make meaningful sonic connections to the records and artists that inspired the Husbands' muse in the first place.
Among the cast of players who guest on the album are Nitpicker comrades Borick and Jim Bolek, pedal-steel star Jon Rauhouse and guitar guru Doug Williams, as well as Rustic labelmate Tammy Patrick, whose ghostly trills counterpoint the lament of Insley's "Skellys 1975."
Despite the help, the record is primarily a me-and-the-boys effort, with little to distract from the chemistry of the four-man core. While the group's cheeky moniker suggests that the whole affair might have been conceived day drunk on a Sunday, it's executed with the level of wit and precision that few similarly intentioned recordings can claim.
The group is scheduled to celebrate the release of the disc on Saturday, September 8, at the Arizona Roadhouse in Tempe. Sharing the bill will be Tammy Patrick and Destroy Your Generation DJs. Showtime is 9 p.m. and cover is $5.