Rick McNulty hosts Left of the Dial on Fridays, 7-11 pm. Follow him on Twitter @Rick_Daddy
I swear that every song on the new White Denim album arrives with a fully-formed mustache.
There’s no other way to explain it. Call it butt rock, cock rock, freedom rock — whatever it is, these songs are accompanied by a big, bushy ‘70s mustache. Like the ‘stache on that swingin’ guy in those old Camel ads.
Stiff is the best southern boogie album you’ll hear all year. I was a little worried that White Denim’s flavor might mellow after the departure of guitarist Austin Jenkins and drummer Joshua Block (now backing Leon Bridges). However, Jonathan Horne and Jeff Olson have filled in admirably. And if anything, leader and songwriter James Petralli has doubled-down on the guitar riffs and summertime party rock songs.
This isn’t to say the music is shallow, but rather it contains the kind of complex pheromones that touch that care-free pleasure center (that same sweet spot that ZZ Top, Skynyrd, and AC/DC stoked several years ago).
It’s a full-bore guitar attack from the very beginning on “Had 2 Know (Personal),” followed by more dirty riffs on a paean to good times with the perfect title of “Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah).” White Denim hits overdrive by the third track, “Holda You (I’m Psycho);” most of the album is relentless riff rock — it’s like getting pistol-whipped with a guitar. And this makes me happy.
Petralli is also capable of the slow-burn groove, all falsetto and shag carpeting on “(I’m The One) Big Big Fun.” It’s one less button on his shirt that reveals just a little more chest hair than you remembered. The closer, “Thank You,” (co-written with Cass McCombs) is a sweet and subdued aperitif to wind down the record, which makes for a gentle ending after the furious haymakers served on most of the album.
Stiff has the makings of a banging summer album. I wanna hear it around the pool, blasting from car stereos and over the PA at the Top Notch. Careful not to get ketchup in your mustache.
Songs can serve as musical touchstones that we return to when we want to remind ourselves what we want music to be. For White Denim’s James Petralli, that song is the Grateful Dead’s “That’s It For the Other One,” which helped him realize how he wanted to approach both the guitar and recording. With the song as a starting point, Petralli goes on to explain why drummers are the most important members of the band, why all musical expression is valid and what it was like to record the bands’s new record “Stiff” with Ethan Johns.
Then Bayonne explores how The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” showed him how powerful openness and vulnerability in music could be and explains how he approached his new record “Primitives” with that same openness.
Listen to the songs featured in episode 33 of This Song.