City Paper is not for tourists
J. Roddy Walston is from Tennessee, but he and his band, The Business, split time between Baltimore and Richmond. They also split time between tiresome arena bombast and infectious, smirking boogie-woogie. The group’s self-titled record—its first on a label; 2007’s Hail Mega Boys was a self-release—comes out today and does its best to make peace between these competing impulses.
Recorded on tape at Sound City Studios in L.A.—the way the old-timers used to do it, remember?—the disc features 10 testes-throttling tracks, the first of which is the best and the last of which steals the drum figure from “When the Levee Breaks” under lyrics like “I’m a first-class phony.” Walston’s allegiance to a rock ‘n’ roll gold standard, though, doesn’t necessarily make him a “phony.” The slyness of his vocal delivery—a little Dr. John in the lower register, a little Jack White in the upper—tells you he knows what he’s doing and that maybe he’ll do it even better on the next record. (That vocal approach also makes his lyrics sound wittier than they are.) “Used to Did” is a very sexy track; “Don’t Get Old” has a nice shimmy and makes a good point too many times; “Brave Man’s Death,” the closest thing to a dark song, has some good Cash-style lyrics. And that first track, the single? It’s called “Don’t Break the Needle,” and threatens to do so.
The songs are relentless in a good way, the record as a whole relentless in a bad way. It’s sort of like Speed: someone told Roddy that if he slowed down, the whole thing would fall apart. Eventually the squall of his voice and the above-average riffs can’t accommodate the repetition. It’s really good beer-pong music, though.
Walston can’t play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis, but he knows it and doesn’t really try to. The appeal of the band inheres in the practically vaudevillian coyness of the piano’s solo moments set against hard-edged guitar lines and able drum breaks. (Though I sometimes wonder if the bassist gets bored.) Oh, and the shout-alongs. (I’ve heard these referred to as “gang-choruses,” and man, that term has never been more apt.)
First track below. Don’t spill your beer.