At a time when indie dominates the musical conversation and you’ve got to head for any of at least a dozen subgenres if you actually want to hear distorted guitars, J. Roddy Walston and his band constitute an anomaly. This hirsute quartet of jeans-clad rowdies actually seem to care about rocking in a way that is rare as hen’s teeth in the year 2013.
J. Roddy Walston & The Business – Essential Tremors (ATO Records)
At a time when indie dominates the musical conversation and you’ve got to head for any of at least a dozen subgenres if you actually want to hear distorted guitars, J. Roddy Walston and his band constitute an anomaly. This hirsute quartet of jeans-clad rowdies actually seem to care about rocking in a way that is rare as hen’s teeth in the year 2013. J. Roddy Walston is a piano player whose energetic frontman antics tend to completely overwhelm his ostensible role as “dude seated at heavy instrument,” in a manner that’s resulted in comparisons to Jerry Lee Lewis. Behind him, drummer Steve Colmus lays down rock-solid beats that evoke the spirit of John Bonham, while bassist Logan Davis and guitarist Billy Gordon crank out heavy riffs. The resulting qualifier-free rock is not something you typically hear on records released in this century, but with the talent, vitality, and youthful spirit Walston and the Business bring to their music, Essential Tremors manages to sound fresh even as it carries on a long and storied musical tradition.
The album begins with “Heavy Bells,” on which Walston ditches his piano for a second guitar. The resulting bedrock heaviness starts the album with a bang and is enough to knock you out of your chair. Between the twin-guitar crunch and Walston’s occasional falsetto whoops, this track recalls several of Led Zeppelin’s classic tunes. This feat wouldn’t be possible without the band’s facility for writing riffs every bit as great as the ones that blast out of car stereos on the Dazed And Confused soundtrack. They continue to demonstrate this facility throughout Essential Tremors, but their sound varies significantly from song to song. Walston tends to divide his time about equally between guitar and piano on the rest of the album, with the heavier tunes mainly featuring the Business’s two-guitar incarnation. These heavier tunes, such as singalong powerhouse “Sweat Shock,” shuffling funk tune “Black Light,” and Southern-fried jam “Hard Times,” mostly retain the 70s muscle-car feel of “Heavy Bells.” The songs on which Walston seats himself behind the piano have a bit more of the R&B-influenced feel generated by early 70s boogie bands like The Faces and Humble Pie. Unlike those groups, though, J. Roddy Walston has a true-blue Southern background, and therefore, when elements of the Allman Bros Band or the Black Crowes show up in his music, it’s not a big surprise.
Towards the second half of the album, Walston slows things down a bit. “Nobody Knows” closes out side one with the most overt balladry of the entire album. Colmus can’t help but Bonham up the drum track, but between the relatively slow tempo, Walston’s falsetto crooning on the song’s chorus, and the dominance of piano over guitar in the song’s instrumental mix, this is definitely the Business’s big romantic moment. In contrast, a couple of songs later, “Boys Can Never Tell” gives us an acoustic guitar-driven showstopper about the complicated relationships between fathers and sons–which is a common subject for Southern men to get emo about, but will probably also make this song resonate heavily with the grown-up rock n’ roll dudes who this album seems tailor-made for. Second-side tracks like “Same Days” and the aforementioned “Hard Times,” as well as album closer “Midnight Cry,” bear a passing resemblance to the 21st-century hipster/Southern rock fusion that Kings Of Leon accomplished in their best moments–and anyone reading that as a dis needs to go back and listen to Aha Shake Heartbreak again, because that album was great.
Essential Tremors may not do much for the bourgeois hipster nerds that have anointed boring bands like Vampire Weekend and The Arcade Fire as the future of indie (which a: is the mainstream these days, so let’s stop kidding ourselves; b: no one even bothers to call “indie rock” anymore, because we all seem to have recognize at some point that none of it rocks much at all), but for fans of actual rock music, who like to hear loud bands with catchy riffs make plenty of joyful noise, this album is sure to be a welcome treat. J. Roddy Walston & The Business make exactly the kind of music you’d expect from longhaired men wearing ripped jeans, and thank god for that. While what they’re doing would clearly have found an appreciative audience four decades ago, it fills a much more urgent need on today’s musical landscape. If you wish there were more bands out there who just wanted to rock, J. Roddy Walston & The Business have the cure for what ails you.