When I posted my Sumertime Apples CD review last year, I pointed out that the 2011 release by Kansas City’s Rumblejetts was mostly straight-up rockabilly, but that it also had hints of a more roots-rock direction for the band. Well, on their latest record, Motor Honey, the Rumblejetts not only point the headlights directly at roots rock, but then they stomp the foot feed and roar into the genre at full throttle. While Motor Honey marks a departure from pure rockabilly, the band still includes tons of rockabilly influence on this disc.
From the very first strains of the guitar intro on the opening cut, “Jump, Kid, Jump,” you know you’re in for the usual Rumblejetts rockin’ good time, but that this record is going to be a little bit different. There’s more distortion on guitarist Jim Holopter’s guitar and the band uses more layering as most of the songs feature at least two guitar parts. There’s also more vocal work on this record with lots of back-up and harmony vocal parts. Chad Hasty has taken over on bass, but still provides that slappin’ stand-up bass style while Jud hasn’t let up one bit on drums, but the feel’s not rockabilly—it’s hard-driving roots all the way.
To me, roots rock was a natural and direct outgrowth of rockabilly and the Rumblejetts are certainly not the first rockabilly act to evolve into a strong roots outfit. Whether they’ll stay along the roots path is yet to be seen, but for now they’re definitely firmly there.
The second cut on the record, “Sugar Daddy,” explores the alt country side of roots rock. It has a definite country vibe and instrumentation, but it’s fast—really fast—and has that polka feel that definitely has to make this a crowd favorite at the live show. “Zombie Girl” uses swampy tremolo guitar along with spooky feedback. In other words, the Rumblejetts have introduced a lot of different sounds into this record that further stretch it out of the rockabilly world toward roots and sometimes into just plain old powerful rock and roll.
“Rocket To The Moon” pulls back away from the manic feel of “Zombie Girl” and actually gave me the feel of a rollicking Broadway musical number. It’s still rock and roll, but the melody is the kind of easy-go-lucky bounce that you might hear in a musical stage production. It’s a cool juxtaposition to what comes before it on the record and lightens the mood for a few moments, which is good because the next tune “Anchor Down” kicks it up again. Holopter really piles it on with a very hotly mixed lead guitar that they’ve put so far out front that you get the feel the band’s just daring you to go ahead and pretend that you don’t notice the heavier approach on this record.
“Full Throttle” reminds me of something that could have appeared on the classic “Seconds of Pleasure” by Rockpile from 1980. “Truck Stop Waitress” dips back into alt country, “Chicken Shack Boogie” borrows heavily from R&B. “Motor Honey” takes no prisoners nor leaves any holds barred and hints at a heavier punkish attitude. “Trucker Crank” cranks things up yet another notch with Jud proving that his kick drum technique can keep up with any heavy metaler on the stage. “Juke Joint” gives us a little taste of jump blues jive and then to wrap things up, the Rumblejetts give us another nod to punk with a cover of the Ramones’ “Commando.”
So, where are the Rumblejetts headed next? Do the two punk-leaning numbers on this disc give us a clue? I don’t know, but I guess I’m not going to worry about it! For now, I’m just enjoying Motor Honey and the new roots rock direction that the band has taken their music.
I highly doubt these guys are done with rockabilly. There’s still a lot of rockabilly in Holopter’s lead playing, although he’s certainly toughened up his sound even more with this record than on Summertime Apples.
If you’re looking for pure rockabilly, then Motor Honey isn’t what you’re after. But if you’re ready for same fine roots rock with high-powered, high-energy attitude, then you’ll definitely want to give this disc a listen. And if you’re already a Rumblejetts fan, then you—like I do—will appreciate the new direction the band has gone toward on this recording. After all, these are the Rumblejetts. It’s still the same highly energetic approach to music that just makes you gotta love these guys!