Houston’s diverse music scene offers up multiple flavors in an aural buffet of variety, and it’s not hard to find a range of sounds in one set on the right stage at the right time. We can claim both rock and country and a good mix in between, including the bluesy, boogie-down Southern rock stylings of Hunter McKithan’s band, The New Offenders.
Despite being just 30 years old, McKithan is an old soul, belting out rugged rock tunes of heartache and victory with the sage reasoning of a man twice his age. Employing a stage presence that’s visceral and engaging, this long-haired, bearded, blue-jeaned guy plays the kind of Southern rock most of us grew up on with nuances and touches all his own. A talented left-handed guitarist, McKithan also has a keen way with lyrics, too.
The latest adaptation of The New Offenders plays some mean, earthy, jammin’ rock tunes, the kind that will bring people off their barstools hootin’ and hollerin’. I know because I’ve seen it.
They're celebrating their new CD release, Stones to Throw, tonight at Firehouse Saloon with Folk Family Revival and Aaron Stephens, and tonight’s bill promises to be a show worthy of your travel. The album contains 12 tracks of raw, bluesy riffs and the kind of lyrics you can’t help but sing along to. Songs like “Denver Mint” and “Devil’s Hand” feel like the kind of rock tunes you want to blow your speakers out with after leaving work on a Friday afternoon with paycheck in hand.
Think of Stones to Throw as a sound track for real life.
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This isn’t the tired, overplayed stuff like “Freebird,” whose first few notes send most listeners into dreaded despair without the necessary inebriation that song requires of an appreciative ear. Self-described as “loose, swampy, free roots-rock and musically inspired,” The New Offenders put a new spin on some classic-sounding stuff. Think of it as a revival of Southern rock in all its glorious symbolic expression: unpretentious, blue-collar and stripped down. It’s rock and roll purity south of the Mason-Dixon.
I met McKithan a few months back at a busy coffee shop hugging a suburban street corner on a gray afternoon. That part of town was teeming with minivans, chain restaurants and the bland slump of middle age. We were both out of place, yet all of that melted away at the subject of his band.
To hear him speak is something altogether unexpected; his quiet and gentle voice is a contradiction to the force McKithan presents onstage. His sapphire eyes catch the light when he speaks, searching for the right words. He’s collected and well-mannered. His words pick up speed when he's talking about his music, and the sincerity of his art takes hold of the conversation. This is no hobbyist playing for tips and a house pitcher of light beer.
To call his drive "dedicated" isn’t quite using the right word; a closer description might be somewhere bordering passionate obsession and gleeful inspiration. McKithan is a musician possessed by the spirit of rock and roll, his head and heart given over to love of live performance.
I was lucky enough to catch their set at Scout Bar when The New Offenders and Chris Hardy opened for Ian Moore & the Lossy Coils on March 10. The band is a tight group, operating as a single unit, precise yet without the conscious posturing. They’re synched up enough to have a polished sound, yet relaxed enough to rock some improvisational jams when the beer salutes are raised in their favor.
Which shouldn’t be surprising, considering how often they perform. That includes a weeklong stretch they did back in January in Steamboat, Colorado, for MusicFest, featuring many of the best country-rock bands around. While they may be easy to catch live now, don’t expect that pace to keep up. As The New Offenders' popularity grows, so will the crowds.
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Drummer Dustin Edwards caught the ears and eyes of several people in the crowd, and I talked with more than one person who recognized his talent. Edwards accepted praise graciously after the set like a man who never takes a compliment for granted, looking me dead in the eye, shaking my hand and learning my name. I couldn’t help but bring the words "Southern hospitality" to mind.
It’s that salt-of-the-earth approach to rock and blues that makes Southern rock so appealing. Down-home boys making honest music…doesn’t get much more Texas than that. Come tip your hat and move your ass tonight.