Stone River Boys,
Love on the Dial
(Cow Island, 2010)

Bands with names like the Stone River Boys are usually bluegrass outfits, but on Love on the Dial, bluegrass is curiously absent from the range of musical influences. This is the debut album of an Austin-based group headed by roots-rock veterans Dave Gonzalez (guitars), late of the sadly defunct Hacienda Brothers, and Mike Barfield (harmonica, percussion), of the long-gone, fondly remembered, Americana-pioneering Hollisters.

By standards of the proudly retro Cow Island label (Starline Rhythm Boys, Arty Hill & The Long Gone Daddys) you might almost call the SRB progressive. "Can I Change My Mind?" -- a hit for Tyrone Davis in 1969 -- is driven by light-funk rhythms and falsetto harmonies, taking the band's sound a decade or more beyond the foundational rockabilly/honkabilly of previous Cow Island releases -- to an era by which, frankly, I'd stopped paying attention to pop music as I started to seek out recordings of older, more deeply rooted sounds.

Thus, the Carole King/Gerry Goffin standard "Take a Giant Step," which appears in a vaguely, albeit charmingly, countrified reading here, is a song I associate with bluesman/songster Taj Mahal. I learn only today that it was covered on the Monkees' first album in 1966, and apparently that's how most listeners sufficiently advanced in years to recall the Monkees remember it. I can't speak to that version. I do know, however, that the SRB's arrangement is not much like Taj Mahal's, and I mean that as a compliment to the Boys and as no slight to the fabulous Mr. Mahal.

Ten of the 14 cuts are originals, all solidly crafted exercises in various forms of un-current (specifically, 1960s/'70s) popular styles, ranging from trad-country (band member Dave Biller's Bakersfield-flavored instrumental "Steel City," Gonzalez's "Think I'm Gonna Make It") and country-folk (Barfield's exquisite "40 Acres," my favorite cut) to r&b (Barfield's "The Struggle") to basic rock 'n' roll (Barfield & Gonzalez's "Boomerang"). It all goes to make the kind of sound you'd be very happy to hear over a few beers in a blue-collar bar where the music is as greasy as the burgers. Top 40 radio long ago ceased putting anything like this on the dial, but if it were still, I'd still be listening.

review by
Jerome Clark

10 July 2010

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