'Righteous' by The Dirt Road Band

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'Righteous' by The Dirt Road Band

Review

Thankfully there has been a short turn around between my live review of the Dirt Road Band at The Arches In which I explained that my review of their debut album ‘Righteous' needed to wait for the ju-ju men at their bank to work their magic regarding electronic payment processing and that being resolved, so here I go.

As you know, the band have released the majority of the album as individual releases already, so you got the chance to process each one & give it its due. I have therefore  reviewed already "What's Going Down", "Next Train Out of Town",  "Cheap Talk & Whiskey", "Don't Count for Nothing", "Been So Long" and "Steal My Heart" so they should be familiar to you: especially if you acquired them on Bandcamp as I advised you to do.

"Never Get Over Losing You", "Worry No More", "Cutting Room Floor" and "On The Up" complete the ten song set & appear today online for your pleasure (with hard copies also an option).

As my various meditations on this band have said before, the identity as a "blues band" is indisputable, yet they dropped the overt use of the term "blues" in their name some time ago: I suspect that players of the experience of Steve Walwyn (guitar & vocals), Horace Panter (bass guitar) and Ted Duggan (drums) are unwilling to lock themselves into any artificial constraint & as the first six tracks have already evidenced, the breadth and diversity of their interest are such that the push the envelope of the genre to the point where it's best just to take them as they are.

"Worry No More" features Friday night's guest James Oliver playing guitar with Steve and Sam Powell the harmonica on "On The Up", which, taken with the keyboard contributions from Bob Jackson & Nikolaj Torp Larsen which I have mentioned before, offer external additional textures to the songs concerned and shape their individual characters very significantly.

However, these are guests and not core band members (I guess their appearing live to play the songs in question will be a sporadic phenomenon at best) and the truth is that the trio themselves can provide all the variations and changes of style necessary to build sets of considerable variety: as Friday's setlist proved. This then is shared with you via the immaculate production by the band & John Rivers.

The title of the album is ‘Righteous' and these three have been on the merry-go-round of professional music for so long that sticking to their principles & defying bullshit is etched into their nature. They are three of the most polite & friendly people imaginable, but they stand their ground tenaciously. Consequently, I refuse to entertain the notion that the ten songs are so varied because of some cynical commercial ploy (I can't imagine anyone urging them to cover demographics as presumably many artists experience) but it's because they have broad tastes: and can play them.

Written by Steve, but obviously owned by them all, the songs could be borrowed by a documentary maker to illustrate an evolving history of blues based music. Let's start with "On The Up" (the "harmonica one") which apart from the superb harp solo (and only having the one on the album increases its power) demonstrates too the DRB lightness of touch. Despite the adrenaline fuelled passion & speed of the live shows & plenty of the tracks, they work just as well at lower volume & pace as shown on this rather 1940's blues type number.

"Worry No More" with twin guitars is necessarily faster & more spiky to make the most of the extra input. Has Steve ever hammered on more in a song? Possibly never. Status Quo ought to cover it if they have the sense. Along with "What's Going Down", whatever American roots lie behind this music, these songs could only have been written & performed by British musicians with a nodding acquaintance with punk rock & pub rock.

Album opener "Never Get Over Losing You" is to riffage what "Worry No More" is to the hammer-on. Steve seems to balance the existential angst of trying to get through life as best he can, which shapes many of his songs, with the occasional admission of light & love into his writing: though here any great sense of optimism is quenched by the love being of the lost variety.

"Cutting Room Floor" is (I assume) a witty update of the Howlin' Wolf song (which I have heard Horace play with Blues2Go) and is faintly reminiscent of the sort of sound Free went for. The lightest & most affectionate of his lyrics on the album (though that is not to ignore the satirical bite) it's as much a dig at the film industry as anything (the bar in the song is presumably metaphorical) and offers a handy respite from the intense numbers around it.

It's a bit intense too getting four new tracks which need your head getting round rather than the double headers earlier, but their being so different makes the task less traumatic.

However playing all ten back to back…. Now that's quite something.

If you haven't read Horace's regular detailed blogs about his life in music: you don't know what you're missing. Witty & illuminating, they offer his inside perspectives on the stuff we enjoy from outside. Regarding the gig on Friday, where a half dozen of the ‘Righteous' songs were played, he singled out "Cheap Talk & Whiskey" as working particularly well. Now they all sounded great to me on record & the ones I've heard live, but it does prove how conscientious they are given that self critique.

And the there are several keys to trying to describe the Dirt Road Band. One is that although on paper, at this stage in their distinguished careers, they could be playing the music they love for themselves: except they are not: they aim to stimulate & delight audiences & get them moving & they reflect afterwards on how individual songs went so as to further hone their live act.

The blues is on surface a simpler form of music (and its roots explain why) and these songs reflect that: yet beneath that misleading surface is so much technique. And as I've said so often about the DRB, it's tasteful technique, without excess nor bombast. After my comment the other day about Ted not using toms with the band, he kindly shared a story with me about Norman Watt-Roy first seeing them live at Putney's Half Moon and declaring "No tom tom ….. fucking love it" which is quite a seal of approval.

As I say, playing ‘Righteous' all through cannot be taken lightly. Don't think of sitting back in your armchair with a glass of something. It's not that sort of album. You'd be better off warning the neighbours or better still inviting them round & clearing space for dancing.

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