Brother Trucker – On the poor side of town
Home to a quarter-million souls, one of the coolest minor-league ballparks on the planet, and the definitive state fair (this year’s included pie-eating contests, the Butter Cow and Bob Dylan in its blithely guileless presentation), Des Moines is best known as (ahem) “The Insurance Capital Of The World.”
Hardly the recipe for a rock ‘n’ roll haven, but in the midst of this Midwest middle-of-nowhere lurks Brother Trucker, an earthy roots-rock outfit that’s as genuinely empathetic, subtle and unassuming as a band can be and still clamp a stranglehold on a sweaty dance floor.
Their sound is anchored by the rhythm section of drummer John Conlan and bassist Lyle Kevin Hogue, but the focus is on lead guitarist Mike Fitzpatrick and, especially, singer-songwriter Andy Fleming. Best pals since hooking up in the second grade in Davenport, Iowa, the latter two played together in “various shitty cover bands in high school and college,” says Fleming. “After that, we played as an acoustic duo — mostly Hank and Cash — until Mike moved to Florida and I moved to Des Moines.
“I started playing open mikes,” he continues, “and talked Mike into moving back to Iowa. I had a bunch of songs I’d written, and we pretty much started playing out again immediately thereafter.” The pair resurrected the Brother Trucker moniker that had graced their last group in Davenport, hit the area taverns, and began experimenting with various rhythm sections. By the spring of 1999, Hogue and Conlan were on board.
A longtime fan of Iowa City band High & Lonesome, Fleming became acquainted with Eastern Iowa’s roots mavens — Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, Dave Moore, Al Murphy and, most importantly, H&L’s Dave Zollo. After Brother Trucker cut a demo, Zollo signed the band to his Iowa City-based Trailer Records and produced both their eponymous 2000 debut and their new disc, Regulars, contributing keyboards on virtually every track. Ramsey, Moore, Murphy and pedal steel guitarist Marty Letz added significant cameos as well.
The crux of the Brother Trucker experience is Fleming’s locked-in grasp of the language and plight of the working (and out-of-work) stiff. Gracefully poetic, he illuminates layoffs, wrong-side-of-the-tracks romance, stealing and dealing to make ends meet, and the crippling worry that leaves you chain-smoking in the dark. Through it all, he finds courage and honor in the painful, tiny acts that chew up life on the margins.
Brother Trucker has been gigging extensively since the release of their debut disc, and the band displays startling growth in chops and dynamic range on Regulars, supplying muscular support and maintaining tension while still allowing Fleming’s exquisite miniatures to breathe.
“We truly feel connected to each other,” Fleming says of his bandmates. “We’re always trying to push each other and to bring each other’s best out.”