Bindlestiffs – Low Road
This Kansas City three-piece plays the kind of simple, straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll that’s been out of fashion for awhile — think Gas Food Lodging-era Green On Red, or the least country-sounding cuts off the Del Fuegos’ debut, or most anything by the Del Lords. On Low Road, they do a pretty good job of reviving that just-three-chords style. Produced by the band and Lou Whitney of the Skeletons, the disc has a fantastic sound — ringing riffs, slashing chords, booming drums — that, along with frontman Mike Niewald’s earnestly raspy vocals, serves as a fine vehicle for these tales of lovers both true (“Big Boned Kansas Gal”) and false (“Boxcar Betty” is “everybody’s baby”). The best cut, “Old Scratch,” moves along in a cocky strut that feels both seductive and menacing, just as it should.
Working in such a no-frills genre, however, a band needs something special to stand out from the crowd, and little on Low Road sets the Bindlestiffs (that’s a hobo, by the way) apart from their mid-’80s forebears, or from like-minded current acts such as (former Del Lord) Eric Ambel & his Roscoe’s Gang project. By the last few cuts, the songs here begin to sound a bit too similar to one another, despite Whitney’s crisp production, and the songs themselves are no more than you’d expect from the disc’s cliched titles: “Bad Blood”, “It’s Too Late”, “Drive Me To My Grave”, “Out With A Bang”.
That’s too bad, for a couple of reasons. First, the Bindlestiffs are a thoroughly likable live band; even if you’ve heard their brand of rock ‘n’ roll a million times before (and you surely have), they play with such clumsy energy and over-the-top sincerity that they’ll never completely bore you with the repetition. But Low Road also something of a disappointment because these guys have it in them to write better songs. On their previous self-released cassettes, they’ve often risen above the genre by writing from unique and moving points of view; their earlier “I Had To Shoot My Horse”, for example, is about a beat-down Civil War solider who never quite understood what the hell he’s fighting for.
Nothing here is nearly so intriguing as that. But every song rocks simply, and simply rocks. Which is all it wants to do.