Album Reviews

Dusty Rhodes & The River Band – First You Live

(Sideone Dummy Records) UK release date: 18 February 2008


The popularity of country and folk acts with a twist has risen quite dramatically recently. The likes of Hayseed Dixie or Gogol Bordello have taken one of the most ardently authentic music forms and made it accessible to a whole new audience; an audience that would normally turn its nose up at the very thought of anything featuring a banjo.

Dusty Rhodes are the latest to tap into the potential of Americana and folk but do so in a manner all of their own. First things first, don’t be put off by the album artwork which bears little resemblance to what lurks on the album. Aping the artwork of any number of B Movie posters you half expect this to be a soundtrack to a film that disappeared without trace several decades ago, and with good reason.

Fortunately as soon as the intro gives way to First You Live you know you’re inhabiting an entirely different world to the one suggested by the discombobulator pistols on the cover. First You Live gives you an idea of what’s to come, but eases you in gently to the world of Dusty Rhodes. Dustin Apodaca’s vocals veer from tender to cracked while violins pick up the baton at the chorus and breathe real life into the song. Essentially it’s the kind of thing The Wonderstuff wished they could write.

Leaving Tennessee continues the country feel with harmonica, accordion and banjo all giving real Southern flavour to a song that nails those archetypal Southern values with every word. Dear Honey is an enjoyable stomp that indulges in the kind of carefree abandon that leads to severely a damaged liver. When Apodaca sings that he drank away all his money, it’s hard not to believe him as the gypsy punk noise erupts around him. It finally dissolves into a New Orleans dirge adding yet another influence from American musical culture to The River Bands widening palette.

The key to Dusty Rhodes appeal is their appropriation of various musical genres. Not only that, it is the respect that they afford those genres. It’s not that they are at all po-faced about their playing, in fact many of these songs could break the meanest heart or force the hardest party audience to get up and ho-down like a cranked up cousin Cleetus.

It’s that the balladeering of Strike can sit comfortably next to the uncontrollable knees-up of Dear Honey, which in turn feels like it belongs on the same album as the gospel chant of Keys To The Truck. Then there’s the proggy tones of Street Fighter which leads perfectly into Grampa Mac, the kind of murder ballad that Nick Cave would be proud of. None of these disparate influences seem jarring or contrived, and for that reason alone Dusty Rhodes should be applauded.

That not one of these songs is a parody proves a love and respect for all kinds of music. Admittedly they’ve updated much of the subject matter (on songs such as Then You Pass for example there are references to cooking up crack) but they’ve done so within the bounds of the form, much like Daniel Woodrell did with his novel Winter’s Bone.

If you turn up expecting the kind of novelty jollies provided by the likes of Hayseed Dixie you may well be slightly disappointed, but give First You Live a chance because this is an album full of surprises and invention.


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