I must need to have my ears cleaned. Seems like every time I pick up an album with influences from the past, I hear something no one else seems to hear. I figure there has to be a ball of wax the size of a softball on each side because by the time the music gets to the eardrum, it isn't what other people say. Oh, a little bit, maybe, but not really all that close. Roosevelt's biography says the band is often compared to The Band and Old Crow Medicine Show. Yeah, I suppose so, but only in bits and pieces and, truth be told, there are other comparisons out there which would be closer. Well, to me anyway.
I get the reference to Old Crow. I would toss in Hogwaller Ramblers, Hackensaw Boys and Yonder Mountain, too, but I have this attachment to Charlottesville and Colorado which warps my sense of reality, so take that for what it's worth. There is that sense of old-timey and mountain music which is undeniable. There is also the constant nod to early 20th Century "street music", be it New Orleans jazz or St. Louis blues or any of the other many styles which carried us from Stephen Foster to the forties and fifties. Thing is, Roosevelt Dime is so good at working old styles into theirs, those influences are plain hard to separate. If that is a backhanded way of saying that these guys are good, I can live with that. They are good. In places, they are damn good.
The thing that I really love about them is their penchant toward the sixties and early seventies San Francisco sound. No, not the psychedelic jam or free form rock side, but the side not necessarily even attached to the SF era, though there they were. I'm talking Dan Hicks' Charlatans, very early Clover (before their move to the UK) and Sopwith Camel. Granted, these bands looked back while looking forward and they did have that old-timey aura about them, but I found (and find) that appealing.
The cool thing about those bands and Roosevelt Dime is that they do what they do so well that eventually you stop listening to the instrumentation and listen to the song. Banjo? Bass? Drums? Brass? It doesn't matter when you get to a certain point, I suppose. I listened numerous times, trying to dissect the New Orleans and St. Louis influences, debating over the horns (parts are out of pre-Stax Memphis and parts are straight off the streets of N.O.—all arranged aptly by RD's Eben Pariser, if we can trust the liner notes, struggling to hear influences which may or may not be there. Finally I lay back out of pure frustration, closed my eyes and let the music roll and suddenly found myself really enjoying Crooked Roots. Man On the Moon and Good Man Do in my mind began morphing toward Sopwith Camel (Their The Miraculous Hump Returns From the Moon still gets regular airplay at my house), Crooked Roots and Be This Way and Down the Line toward Clover (pre-Huey Lewis), with the smallest hint of the old Charlatans sound livening things up here and there. And you know that old R&R/Gospel/Hillbilly style Elvis would throw out every once in awhile? If Elvis had recorded Still So Blue, no one would have batted an eye. Even the lyrics are straight out of the late fifties and early sixties.
I wish I could come up with a comparison to Black & Gold as well, but for some reason, my mind won't allow it. It's a backwoods roots-rocker with uillean pipes offsetting the banjo and pedal steel—a dancing tune if ever there was one. Play this at the pub and the whole crowd will be clogging.
I owe the band an apology somewhere and it might as well be here. I sat on this album for a few months while working my way through the damnedest white sheet syndrome I've ever experienced. I should have posted this long ago. The bad news and good news is that this is not the latest Roosevelt Dime album. While I was beating my head against the wall they slipped another release onto the streets called Steamboat Soul and not only do I find myself playing catch-up, the guilt weighs heavily on me. It doesn't affect my judgment, though, and you can bet I will get caught up (or die trying). Suffice it to say that I am totally behind Crooked Roots (stop by their MySpace page and give it a listen) and am really looking forward to hearing a little Steamboat Soul.
Hey, you really want to know what kind of music this is? I would have a cup of coffee with any lady who gets what these guys do. There is something about this music which attracts the best people. I have no idea why.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles