American Relay/Corn and Oil
On the surface, the easiest way to describe American Relay's full-length debut "Corn and Oil," would be as a more southern-tinged White Stripes.
There are two of them, drums and guitar, and they do draw heavily on blues and garage rock.
These days though, any two-person crew that draws on more than one musical style could be labeled as a Jack-and-Meg knockoff - it happens too often, and it's hardly ever accurate (despite the fact that Relay's "Bonedry" sounds a little like the Stripes' "Bone Broke").
"Corn and Oil" takes the rawness of Delta blues - the guitars that sound like they've been filtered through a broken amplifier, the drums that can be anything from shuffling to downright angry - and adapts it to encompass, as Relay guitarist Nick Sullivan puts it, "youthful exuberance."
What the band leaves behind is the frankness of lyrics that make some styles of the blues hokey, but gives them a lot of their power. It's supposed to be simple and heartfelt, and some of the best blues lines are based around the easiest complaints: "When did you start wearing your hair like that?" or "What do you mean Ancient Age is bad for me?"
But American Relay pays proper tribute to the rest of low country blues, without becoming a tribute band.
"Trusst" has the guitar driven swagger that makes this kind of music such a great, too-often-forgotten release. "Poor Boy" is a traditional cover that drummer Alex Hebert has given new life in insistent beats, and "Shake Yo' Money Maker" is a brash, simple rockabilly rant.
And the record's first three tracks - "Bonedry" a suitable blues rock introduction, "Curtain Call" a punked out burner, "Begin" with its dirty first few bars and rollicking body - are American Relay's version of rock 'n' roll, and of the music that gives the genre its roots.
"Corn and Oil" has its unconvincing moments - Sullivan is no blues guitarist, at least not yet, and the closing ballad "Uncompelling Me" is a little tepid.
Still, there are proven chops here, and the duo has the right influences (juke joint bluesmen) on its side.
Rating: '''' (of five stars)
- Saturday, September 8, 2007, 10 p.m.
- Old Town Pub & Restaurant, 600 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs
American Relay's first goal for its hometown CD release party on Saturday is to bring some rock 'n' roll to Steamboat. The next step, jokes guitarist/vocalist Nick Sullivan, is to conquer the world.
The duo's debut, "Corn and Oil," came out in July and is driven by Sullivan's vocals that verge on punk and Alex Hebert's drums that take some cues from it.
Now based in Denver, the two-man show is slowly crunching its way to buzz with a sound that feels like it could have been featured in the backwater Samuel L. Jackson vehicle "Black Snake Moan," if that movie had been set at CBGB.
This isn't your laid back, down-on-luck blues. It's barely palatable, soaked in cheap whiskey and borders on out of control.
Sullivan and Hebert, on speakerphone in a van en route from Denver, talked to 4 Points about their music, coming home to play and how in a town so pretty they found music so dirty.
4 POINTS: Coming from Steamboat Springs, where do you get this kind of dirty, Delta blues sound?
AMERICAN RELAY: (Nick) It had a lot to do with the artists we had listened to : that dirty, Mississippi Delta blues, low country stuff that's not really as pretty, that's a lot more raw.
(Al) For me as a drummer, it was the rhythms. You know, I played in punk rock bands for years, and I wanted to try something new, and I'd always listened to the blues.
(Nick) We did see a show when we first started out here in Denver and it was some old blues guys from Mississippi, a juke joint style show, with just guitar and drums. They got the crowd drinking and dancing, but said they'd had trouble finding a bass player. It was just like, 'We could do that.'
4 POINTS: On this record, "Corn and Oil" - it's blues, but it also has a lot of rock going on. You said you were in punk bands, and there are definitely songs where you hear that.
AR: (Nick) Blues is kind of a foundation for a lot of genres that are pretty stylistically different from each other. The more soulful R&B, rock, the blues is always underneath that.
We're still coming to it (the blues, the sound), you know. There's a lot of like youthful exuberance, too. As a guitar player I would never call myself a traditional blues artist.
4 POINTS: So, how are things going?
AR: (Nick) We're getting to play a lot more - opened for Alvin Youngblood Hart, who's a Memphis blues dude still keeping it alive and real, and rocking bands like Earl Greyhound. We didn't put too much money into (the record), so it's good, it's been helping us a lot.