Dex Romweber Duo — Is That You In The Blue?
The Dex Romweber Duo’s latest album is a guided tour through the boarded-up dancehalls, musty honky-tonks and long-forgotten swamp shacks lurking in the interstices of popular American music history. Viewed through the rosy-hue of loving nostalgia, Dex and gang shift effortlessly between rockabilly, old-time country, surf guitar and lounge music across 14 terse tracks, running under 40 minutes total.
Dex Romweber wears inspiration on his sleeve. There’s no hint of irony or self-referential winking, even as his band tears into some obvious genre signifiers. Despite the unsubtle machinations, Romweber exerts his will and makes it clear that every song is his own. Sounding like Roy Orbison turned carnival barker, he is just as comfortable hollering over a tense rockabilly riff as he is languidly purring an anthemic torch song.
Dex’s sonic dexterity finds its most marked expression in the paired tracks “Wish You Would” and “Wish You Would (Reprise).” The first incarnation being a tight, rockabilly lamentation of a man done wrong. The reprise offers the same riff slowed down and backed by a tropicalia-inspired beat that turns a once vicious indictment into a sexy come-on.
The Dex Romweber Duo avoids the pitfalls of being labeled genre-hacks with earnest enthusiasm and skillful songwriting and instrumentation. Their version of America’s musical backwater is as raucous, soulful, confused and frenzied as America itself.
The Bottle Rockets — Not So Loud
There was a time when “alt-country” was a big deal. In the early ’90s a group of musicians, mostly hailing from all points Midwest, strove to take rock music back from the flannelled masses. These intrepid rockers, including Uncle Tupelo, The Jayhawks and The Bottle Rockets, sought to reunite rock-and-roll with their old-time progenitors from the lands of blues, bluegrass and country. The result was a throwback hybrid combining sad-sap lyrics and twangy vocals with rollicking backbeats and guitar riffs.
The Bottle Rockets, a driving force in the movement of the ’90s, stayed the course over the years and continue to play rootsy country rock despite the tumult of line-up and label changes. Their latest from Bloodshot Records is a live recording comprised of tracks recorded over a two-night run in their hometown of St. Louis, MO.
Despite being known for a loud, raucous live sound — best approximated by contemporaries The Drive By Truckers — The Bottle Rockets chose to leave their amps and distortion pedals at home, favoring an acoustic recording. The result is a spare, intimate set of songs spanning each era of their long career.
Given ample breathing room, the desultory lyrics of songs like “Smokin’ 100’s Alone” bear emphatic emotional weight. When lead singer Brian Henneman sings “Thinking about the man that done her wrong / Happy that she kicked him out but sad that he is gone,” the words, framed only by slight guitar flourishes, lend themselves to quiet reflection.
The song selection and solemn tone lend this album the feeling of a somber career retrospective. Longtime fans will delight in new recordings of old favorites and other songs long out of print. New listeners may find themselves enamored by the warm melodies and wry wordplay that lend an enduring nature to The Bottle Rockets’ sound.