Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dieselhed 1993-2000

Country-punk. It's a genre. And these guys defined it pretty darn well on their 1993 eponymous debut. The first half of the record is close to perfection. Poodle's Ear and Cloud Of Diesel are full of funky country harmonies. Sergio Taurus combines slow country verses with a shouted punk chorus. The punk shouting of Happy Donut thrashes it up, while B A Band is their grand statement. Telling the story of the band members some fifteen years in the future, after the band breaks up, it is a fascinating take on the band biography song (think The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople) from a unique lyrical approach. Plus there's the big arena rock chorus of "Someday we won't be a band", sounding both sincere and tongue-in-cheek at the same time.

It is the songwriting that sets the band apart. Virgil Shaw and Zac Holtzman combine interesting, funny approaches to country songs, oddball lyrical twists, and punk thrashing to unique effect. Shaw has a way with a sincere lyric even when he's writing about weird ideas, and you never quite know if he's mocking himself or wearing his heart on his sleeve. The band is talented, and drummer Danny Heifetz (who played simultaneously in Mr. Bungle) is a particular standout, and also adds horns on a several songs to good effect. The debut also features violin from Jonathon Segel that adds to their already interesting sound.

Tales Of A Brown Dragon 1995 followed the same recipe with considerable success. Brown Dragon, Wedding Song ("put your finger through the ringy-ding-ding"), Wipe Down The Vinyl, and Snow Blind In The Liquor Store  showing their formidable skills.
1997 brought Shallow Water Blackout, and they continue to scrape country sounds across a loud punk vibe that is infectious. Fog It Up, Produce Section (with a pretty sick lyric), Yellow Kitchen, Inches Of Air, and Blue Hawaiian are all excellent.

All three of the records also include some more country-sounding slow numbers that have solid, often twisted, lyrics. These songs help relieve the stress of the more punk efforts, but they are not the strongest songs generally.

Which brings us to 1998 and Elephant Rest Home. For some unknown reason, the loud punk rock of the first three gives way to a mostly acoustic, mostly country record that seems under-baked compared to the first three. Some of them are perfectly good songs with decent lyrical ideas, but the loud punk sounds that ignite their earlier outings are all but gone. It almost sounds like they didn't bother to finish it.

In 2000 they released their final record, Chico and the Flute, and it again it suffers from too little energy, but not nearly as badly as Elephant Rest Home. Brownie, Tidepool, Gentle Grooming, and Homemade Shoes almost rock like they did on the first three, and it is a worthy send-off for a band that more people should have heard.

The debut is their strongest effort, and the next two are close behind. An eye-opening experience for an old graduate of the 70s country-rock movement, and a fine kick in the pants.

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