"What's Going Down" by the Dirt Road BandReview
As most of you probably know from various sources, including our previous articles, the Dirt Road Band has evolved from an initial single event (which ironically never took place) collaboration between Steve Walwyn (guitar & vocals), Horace Panter (bass guitar) and Ted Duggan (drums) into something much longer lasting & regularly gigging. At the time of conception, the first named two could not have foreseen the lamentable circumstances which led to the removal of the commitments to their "main" bands and so freeing up time to play together.
However sad the dynamics might be that have led us here, at least we have some consolation in witnessing how much they clearly enjoy playing together. That in turn has lead to some very joyous gigs & consequently a great deal of demand for them to play nationally & beyond.
Hitherto, the nature of the band determined that covers had to make up most of the sets (a mixture of styles: not just the blues which for a time was in the band's name, the well known & the obscure). I've heard the odd Steve original plus others from guesting musicians, but now at last their own original repertoire is emerging.
Before talking about debut single "What's Going Down", I'd like to bring a timeline to your attention. I knew from Steve several months ago that writing was taking place, but even so, when I bumped into him in the park on 6th August (only just over a fortnight ago), nothing had yet been recorded. Subsequently, they've been into Woodbine Street Studio and laid down no fewer than four tracks for an album, of which this one is the first to come out: a really old school recording pace but given the experience of all three of them & producer/engineer John Rivers (I'll spare their blushes by not estimating their combined years as professionals): these people know what they are doing in the studio and I'm sure were going for as immediate & live a feel as possible. Which of course is what you hear.
On top of that, it's tempting to put the tempo they play the song at down also to a considerable desire to start the ball rolling on the DRB recording career: it's brisk to say the least: at times it's Johnny Moped fast. The song owes considerably more to their various experiences in the sweaty adrenaline fuelled world of British R&B than to the classic US songs they cover. Had they put this out in 1975 it could have held its own against the considerable competition around at that time.
You can hear all three of them enjoying themselves playing at this pace while retaining clarity & even more importantly, swinging. The latter quality, which requires an ability to syncopate & accentuate the off-beat, can be elusive & as a reviewer I become quite sensitive to its absence. I think artists either possess it or they do not. DRB do in spades & it adds to the excitement of the song.
The subject matter also derives from those crucial years when the surliness of The Who informed the early punks: the perennial question of addressing a suspected liar shares the DNA of "La La La Lies", "Deny" or "Liar" (The Who, The Clash & Sex Pistols respectively in case you didn't know). For three of the most pleasant people you can imagine, they certainly revel in the role playing necessary in this game.
This is evident in the playing too: it's a rare skill to be this proficient and convey such raw excitement: it's most evident in Steve's playing which oscillates between terse when he's singing & ferocious when not. Ted's drumming complements this with plenty of cymbal & snare work to keep his sound brittle & spiky. Horace grounds this acerbity with very busy runs: I'm sure the laws of music preclude his using every note: it just sounds that way.
If the mood of urgency displayed on "What's Going Down" reflects the mood of the album (I'd guess it will to some extent) then I think what we have here is a case of a band as eager to be heard as we are to hear them.
You can access "What's Going Down" via this link: https://dirtroadband.bandcamp.com/track/whats-going-down