(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, October 25, 2010

CD review - Tumbledown, Empty Bottle (2010)

The sound on Empty Bottle is familiar. Tumbledown adds a country twist to that special genre in my pantheon of music: "snotty boys with guitars". I ought to judge them solely on their own merits, but it's hard to separate their sound from one of my favorite old bands, the Refreshments.

I fell in love with the Refreshments the first time I heard Banditos. They had tight harmonies, a driving beat, and a saturated guitar sound. Frontman Roger Clyne sneered out songs of sheepish losers who fell to forces they just couldn't understand. After the Refreshments broke up, Clyne moved on to a great solo career, maturing as an artist. While I love his new work, I miss the immaturity and attitude the Refreshments summoned.

With Empty Bottle, the first couple of songs set Tumbledown's credentials as a country rock band. But then, the third track, Meet the Devil, triggers the comparison to the Refreshments. It's a simple guitar rocker, choppy and full sounding with a layer of lead guitar to smooth it over. Mike Herrera has that same know-it-all tone that Roger Clyne sings, but a little lower and raspier. When he sings, "I never start from the beginning, I go straight to the end. Always looking for an angle, for a back door in", I hear the same sentiments that the Refreshments could always tap.

This continues with the story song, Arrested in El Paso, which has a nice hard rock start that settles into a rollicking western-tinged rock.
They got my worldly possessions strewn about the floor
And I don't think we're gonna make the show no more
So, don't you mess with Texas, from experience I know
And steer far clear of the US Border Patrol
A classic rock guitar solo is the icing on this cake. Songs like these satisfy my cravings for that Refreshements sound.

Tumbledown throws in enough country rock elements to step beyond the Refreshments comparisons. They have a clear love of traditional country that comes out in songs like She's in Texas (and I'm Insane) ("...I run to her like water down a drain") and Drink to Forget or in the steel tones of guest Todd Beene on Bad News. They may not be perfectly biographical, but their songs paint a picture of blue collar guys just doing their best. That's a big part of what classic country has always been and Tumbledown captures that.

At the same time, Tumbledown clearly gets their "snotty boys" sound from Mike Herrera's other band, MxPx, which is squarely in that New Found Glory brand of thrashy rock. The mix of rock and country may sometimes pull Empty Bottle more into the direction of the Beat Farmers than the Refreshments, but it's a good solid rocker. Line up a shot and a beer and give them a listen.

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