Photos: Hayes Carll/ Craig Hlavaty; Dash Rip Rock, Robert Earl Keen/ Chris Gray
On their 1996 self-titled debut LP, Hee Haw-loving Nashville ironists BR5-49 cut a song called "Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts)." Anyone who has read either the paper or this site in the past few weeks will no doubt know that little Rocks Off has likewise gone hillbilly nuts. He hasn't stopped listening to other kinds of music completely, but lately, to paraphrase someone who was most definitely not a hillbilly, it don't mean a thang if it ain't got that twang.
Nevertheless, it's probably time to move on, at least for a while. (Rocks Off did manage to escape the clutches of Sirius XM's Outlaw Country channel today... all the way over to Little Steven's Underground Garage, and feels an extended spell in Bluesville coming on.) And the glut of top-shelf Americana acts rolling through Houston this past weekend - local boy made good Hayes Carll Friday, Cajun crazies Dash Rip Rock Saturday and local boy made really good Robert Earl Keen Sunday - seemed like a good way to get it out of his system once and for all.
What is it - feed a fever, starve a cold?
Well, like they say in the movies, it seemed like a good idea at the time. That idea pretty much went out the window when Rocks Off walked into the packed Warehouse Live studio to the lurching strains of "Drunken Poet's Dream," the opener of Carll's all-everything Trouble in Mind disc (co-written with Ray Wylie Hubbard), wherein he extols the virtues of a woman who likes to "be gazed upon."
Yeah, it was pretty much a lost cause from there on out. Then there was the song that probably got Carll signed to Lost Highway in the first place, "Little Rock," which couldn't have been more Exile on Main Street if Keith Richards walked onstage and played a lick or two. Same with Trouble's equally scruffy "Girl Downtown" and "Wild as a Turkey." Then, four score and seven beers ago, self-explanatory rocker "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" and the hilarioius hippie harangue "She Left Me for Jesus" - picture about 300 people screaming "If I ever find Jesus, I'm kickin' his ass." No place but Texas.
Saturday night brought no relief. But then what do you expect from a band that has managed to extract a quarter-century's worth material from a certain beverage usually sold in aluminum cans or 12-ounce glass bottles? That's Dash Rip Rock all right, Jerry Lee Lewis by way of the Ramones.
For two solid hours, as the 150 or so Continental customers bobbed and weaved on the dance floor, Dash ably alternated straight-ahead selections from its new Country Girlfriend CD ("It's the Beer," "Google This!") with gloriously un-PC favorites like "Bumfuck Egypt," "Pussywhipped" and the Danny & the Juniors-molesting "Let's Go Smoke Some Pot." (Now there's an idea...reggae!) Oh, and Dash drummer Eric Padua growled a nasty cover of "Ring of Fire" that was much more Mike Ness than Johnny Cash, and later the band nailed the Ramones' "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" to the floor.
So it wasn't all country.
That left only Keen to break Rocks Off's Americana bender, which is a little like asking Amy Winehouse or Pete Doherty to be your Narcotics Anonymous sponsor. However, despite their "Road Goes on Forever" reputation, Keen's songs are considerably more introspective than either Carll's or Dash's, the unironic sentiments of "Feeling Good Again" and "Gringo Honeymoon" - maybe the saddest song about post-nuptial bliss ever - cloaked in Marty Muse's melancholy steel-guitar landscapes.
When he wasn't baiting the sold-out House of Blues crowd by hollering "How 'bout them Cowboys!" (a refrain he later worked into "Five Pound Bass"), Keen told stories about a dirt-paved alley outside a Mexican club where bassist Bill Whitbeck tripped over a dead guy (and then relieved him of his cigarettes) and riding the rails with Woody Guthrie during the Great Depression, which evidently birthed a nifty new train song. Hey - nobody said they had to be true.
Keen and his band - led by flat-picking guitar virtuoso Rich Brotherton - eventually worked up to the wave-crashing chords of "Corpus Christi Bay" and white-line fever of Terry Allen's "Amarillo Highway," and "Five Pound Bass" was, as ever, country as a crosseyed mule. And sure enough, they even did "The Road Goes On Forever."
But Rocks Off noticed something: when the vociferous crowd sang along to this and a few others - "Feelin' Good Again" and "Gringo Honeymoon" chief among them - there was a palpable feeling of wishful thinking in their voices, like if they sang loud enough, they really would be feeling good again and the party really would never end.
We all know better, of course, but music has a way of fooling you like that. So maybe it's starve a fever and feed a cold? - Chris Gray
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