Trent Summar &
the New Row Mob,
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
(Palo Alto, 2006)

At their core Trent Summar & the New Row Mob are a Southern rock band with a pronounced country accent. If that sounds like a lot of the stuff that you hear -- if you can stand to listen -- on what passes for country radio and video these days, well ... yeah. "Supposed to Do," co-written by Summar and Jay Knowles, is that kind of dreck. The word "heart" shows up a whole bunch of times, and that's never a good sign. On the other hand....

If you have the patience to sit through a couple of not-so-ecstatic moments (the other is the annoying and derivative "Pink John Deere"), Horseshoes & Hand Grenades is more reminiscent of John Anderson's rockin' hillbilly -- especially in evidence in Summar and Gary Nicholson's "She Knows What to Do with a Saturday Night" -- than of bombastic Hot Country sound effects that function less as musical art than as airplay pollution. Fun of a contagious strain infects Summar and the boys. Besides the rockin' pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu, the rockabilly virus -- to which I have never been able to develop resistance (or desired such) -- runs gloriously untreated through the band's collective bloodstream.

You'd have to be a corpse frozen in your grave not to revel in the joys of the boppin' train song "Louisville Nashville Line" -- Summar composed it with band member and bass player Michael "Supe" Granda -- or not to roar at the unexpected mariachi-horn break (quoting Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire") that erupts halfway through Summar and Kostas's "Guys Like Me" (which opens with deep-throated electric-guitar chords stolen from Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues"). And then there's the conspicuously irreverent rearrangement of George Jones's lachrymose epic "He Stopped Loving Her Today." You are free to love or hate what Summar and the New Rows do to the song, but even if you want to, you won't be able to ignore it.

The album works also because of its vivid, organic resonance, which no doubt owes to Rand Bishop's production skills. The best cuts sound much like live performances. Horseshoes falters only on those occasions when, I gather, somebody reminded somebody that they'd better put down something with a shot at commercial radio play. Well, the guys have gotta make a living, I suppose, but when they're doing it just because they like it that way, you'll like it that way, too.

by Jerome Clark
21 April 2007

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