The title of this album pretty much says it all. From Houston, Texas, the Octanes have clearly studied their roots, infused it into their rock, and successfully evoked the romance of musical nostalgia with their brand new self-released CD, Roots, Rock & Romance.
This is roots rock at its indie finest and The Octanes explore many aspects of the genre across the 11 rockin’ cuts on this record. Songwriter/vocalist/lead guitarist Adam Burchfield explores a number of facets with all original music and creative arrangements. There’s rock, country, rockabilly, Cajun zydeco, jump jive, and more here.
Drummer Brian Shoppell doesn’t just lay down a solid beat, he insists upon it and drives the band with relentless urgency toward the goal of making the listener understand what the band is trying to say. Bassist Nick Gaitan rides tastefully in the pocket and compliments the drums so that they work together just the way they were meant to. Gaitan also served as Burchfield’s writing partner on two of the CD’s songs including the absolutely infectious “Don’t Flip Your Lid.” That song also features some very, very clever guitar work on Burchfield’s part and great harmony leads along with harmony vocals. “Don’t Flip Your Lid” is a standout on the album because it’s jump/jive style is so out of place that it couldn’t fit more perfectly!
The band is rounded out by Bart Maloney on pedal steel guitar. When the steel guitar is used properly it’s one of my favorite sounds and Maloney knows how to use the instrument. He doesn’t overplay it like so many players do and doesn’t try to steal the show, rather he adds subtle spice just where it’s needed and only steps out to the front when it’s appropriate. The perfect example of both is his work on the song “Secret Handshake,” which closes the album. I love the way his steel guitar slides in and out of the album. It’s not always there in every verse of every song and that only serves to make it that much stronger when the band decides to bring it into the mix.
Burchfield is a monster on his tough-sounding Telecaster and brings several playing styles to the record, including a very obvious rockabilly influence. He uses a tightly-compressed and over-driven sound, but its not overly distorted and so his lead lines and rhythm chunks are well-defined and meaningful and it allows him to showcase his great playing.
Burchfield’s lead vocals are rough edged. Sometimes it seems like he’s teetering right on the edge of not properly hitting the notes, but I’m not complaining! This style gives the songs an edge and the touch of gravel in his throat works perfectly for this style in a way that a super-smooth, perfectly toned voice just simply never could.
The songs on the CD explore a number of different themes, some serious, some just fun and that provides a good mix. The record hits some heavy tones like the backroom deals that make the rich richer while leaving the poor to sacrifice themselves as soldiers or beg to keep their meager factory wages as described in the hard-hitting “Secret Handshake” and the despair of trying to make a livin’ in a mean world described by the tough “213″ (one of my favorites on this record).
Other songs hit personal topics–the usual relationship problems as in the CDs strong one-two punch openers “Can’t Be Friends” and “Movin Up, Movin Out.” “Don’t Flip Your Lid” takes a bit lighter approach to relationships and is just pure fun.
And then there’s the carefree fun of “Louisiana Radio” which features very tasty accordion work by guest musician, Ruben Moreno.
I can honestly say that I don’t think there’s a week song on this record. I’ve already mentioned a couple that I consider my favorites, by they aren’t by far. There’s a lot to choose from here and the neat thing is that I’ll bet a lot of listeners will pick other favorites than those that I’ve mentioned.
But still, it’s not an ill-matched Frankenstein record by any means. It all holds together extremely well. The songs are well ordered and the CD is nicely paced, one leading into the next without any of the jolt that comes when you listen to songs that don’t go well together. In the #7 spot, “Where Were You?” slows things down for a comfortable five-and-a-half minutes to let you catch your breath before the album finishes out with four final rockers.
The disc was recorded by Mark Shannon at Bungalow Studio in Houston, TX and the mix sounds great. Perfect for the sound these guys were after.
This is a hot record. If you’re a fan of artists and bands like the Blasters/Dave Alvin, Jason and the Scorchers, Los Lobos, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, and others in the roots rock and alt country genres, I think you’ll really dig this CD. I’ve listened to it several times since the band sent it to me and I’m enjoying it more with each listen. This disc will definitely be on my go-to list when I’m in the mood for roots rock (and let’s face it; I’m always in the mood for roots rock!)
In short–and yes, I’ve saved the obvious gag for the end of the review–this record is purely high octane! Check it out; you’ll be glad you did.