A sad part of being a major celebrity and starting a rock band on the side is that inherently people will show up out of nowhere to see your band and ignore your music because they just want to see "you." Sometimes the music somehow ends up overshadowing the celebrity and the band becomes noteworthy in their own right and the fact that Jordan Catalano is your lead singer is sort of an afterthought.
The Boxmasters, actor Billy Bob Thornton's newest musical project, is very much still in that early stage of notoriety - the stage where people show wanting to hear lines from Sling Blade or throw publicity stills at him while he is trying to sing a song or even light a freaking cigarette onstage. But that still shouldn't diminish the fact that his Boxmasters are making ace country-fried rockabilly.
Imagine if Conway Twitty and the Kinks at their most mod got stoned one night in the '60s and decided to record four albums out in Bakersfield. It's definitely not like the stuff that BBT was doing earlier this decade, because this stuff has a more closely defined sound and aim.
What gets the Boxmasters over that hump of starfucking hysteria is that they actually don't do a bad job at what they do. This doesn't seem like some sort of 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts or Wicked Wisdom jazz, where actors try to live out some rock fantasy in between filming movies or getting into fights with hotel managers. In fact, it's the Boxmasters' prodigious recording nature that proves that this isn't a flash in the pan vanity project but a true musical enterprise.
Friday night at Fitzgerald's, the Boxmasters came out in front of an oddly miscast crowd of film fans and confused mid-tier socialites who could have cared less about the music and were more interested in seeing the man at the mike. The band played mostly unreleased music from the upcoming album, Bellflower, that should be hitting stores in May.
The new music is decidedly more morose than the band's eponymous debut and this year's Modbilly, which were both Spanish-heeled slabs of mod-slash-country inhabited by sad-sap dick-in-the-dirt characters and alcoholics in affable misery. The music that they are now making veers more into balladeering than "I'm Watching The Game" from their debut.
From the sounds of it though, Bellflower will be way more traditional than the other records. The new "The Light Won't Shine" and "Annalee" are both way more accelerated and maudlin. "Hope For Glory" is an pro-soldier ode that has its shit straight, which more than most protest songs can say for themselves. Modbilly's "Turn It Over" is pure modern Bakersfield 'tonk through and through.
The thing that we have started to notice about Fitz is that the sound on the upstairs stage is getting incredibly muddy. We aren't sure if age has done a number on the room's acoustics or if maybe the levels were off, but dang if it didn't throw us off.
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Sadly, Aftermath was probably one of a dozen who were listening to the band instead of taking pictures on their Blackberrys and having full-on conversations with BBT during songs as if he was conducting an onstage Q&A session like the one Daniel Johnston was doing across town at Diverseworks.
A quick visit by none other than the King of Boogie Rock, Billy ("Fuckin'") Gibbons got Aftermath's blood rushing in the anticipation of a collab, but the bearded legend didn't touch guitar one, only coming out to joke with BBT for a spell. It's always fun to see Gibbons around town, considering that ZZ Top is a part of the Rocks Off Holy Trinity.
After the show we met up with BBT in the band's touring bus and, over a few stout American Spirits and some cold beers, he told us about the three new records the band has in the can, including the aforementioned Bellflower. The band keeps up their recording pace with their own studio, which was formerly Slash from Guns N' Roses' own workspace.
BBT isn't due to start filming a movie again until February, so between now and then the band will be working on some tracks and finishing mixing on the next albums. The coolest thing he has in the offing is a sequel to 2003's modern Christmas epic, Bad Santa. According to Thornton, both Tony Cox and Brett "Thurman Merman" Kelly are due back in the next film, which should be out by next Christmas season.