Old Man Markley combine bluegrass and punk on debut “Guts N’ Teeth”
Formed in Los Angeles in 2007, Old Man Markley, a ragtag ensemble of talented artists and miscreants, have since created a catchy, organic sound best described as bluegrass punk, of all things. And that sound has burst through the starting gates and is tearing down the track, all wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth, with the release of the band’s debut album, Guts N’ Teeth, on California punk label Fat Wreck Chords.
With a strong repertoire of originals that go from fast-paced, energetic punkgrass hoedowns to slower, more thoughtful campfire folk-punk tunes, Old Man Markley always have use for each of the members that constitute their eight-piece lineup. At present, that lineup consists of Johnny Carey (lead vocals and guitar), Annie Detemple (autoharp and vocals), Aaron Higgins (drums), Joey Garibaldi (bass and vocals), Ryan Markley (washboard), John Rosen (banjo and vocals), Katie Weed (fiddle), and Alex Zablotsky (mandolin).
Rumor has it that Old Man Markley were just a bunch of West Coast punks who decided to experiment with roots music, playing punk adaptations of old-timey bluegrass and country standards. Or rather, doing the right songs all the wrong ways. Only it worked, and worked well. People wanted to hear more of it. So the members of the band started writing the original material which later became the songs for their debut album Guts N’ Teeth.
Guts N’ Teeth is a twelve-song release, decidedly more polished and less gritty than most roots-based music, but somehow it doesn’t suffer for it. Instead, it goes down like a shot of top shelf whiskey, smooth but still somehow burning the whole way down. And you find yourself ordering another…and then another. “For Better, For Worse,” the album’s opener, is one of the more standout tracks, but there are at least four or five songs on Guts N’ Teeth that could have stood out on their own as singles. “Do Me Like You Do,” is a fun and infectious romp of a song, all pickin’, fast-paced drumming, bursts of fiddle, and vocal tradoffs between Annie and Johnny. “Struggling,” the album’s closer, is definitely one of my favorites, with great lyrical content and harmonies, as well as the great rootsy punk that has made Old Man Markley a band to watch for in the scene. Other than the ones mentioned, there are songs about the paranoia of transporting illegal drugs across state lines, about the meaningfulness and power of song, about drinking oneself into oblivion, and about a host of other things that are pretty much part of being human in today’s crazy world…well, except perhaps the song which deals largely with love and murder.
It is a bit surprising that Fat Mike signed Old Man Markley to the Fat Wreck label, since the label has been a punk-only label for as far back as I can remember. That certainly says a lot about Old Man Markley as a band, as well as their approach to roots and punk fusion.