June 26, 2015
Banditos are a big, hairy, Alabama-bred, Nashville-relocated sextet that I’d never heard of until a few months ago. Except for singer Mary Beth Richardson, the band looks like the wild-eyed sons, or maybe grandsons, of Lynyrd Skynyrd. (But please note, that’s an American flag on the group’s album cover, not a Confederate flag, which Skynyrd and other old Southern rock bands liked to drape themselves in.)
But even though Banditos resemble countless other Southern rock groups that came before them, their self-titled album is, hands down, the most impressive country rock debut I’ve heard in years. They play a crazy brew of rootsy, rocksy sounds. You’ll hear strands of ZZ Top, Janis Joplin, Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, bluegrass, jug-band, honky-tonk, rockabilly, and Stax-style soul.
In spite of the fact that Banditos boast three lead singers — Richardson, guitarist Corey Parsons, and banjo man Stephen Pierce — you won’t hear those generic, cheesy, pretty-boy, Eagles-style peaceful, easy harmonies that scar so much of the alt-country, “Americana” (I still hate that term) country-rock universe. No, this is a raucous roadhouse crew that sounds like it’s more interested in rolling you for beer money than gently wooing your ears.
In interviews, Parsons has named several punk and garage groups as influences — The Stooges, The Cramps, The Minutemen, Black Flag, and The Sonics, among others. That intensity definitely is part of the mix. But in another interview, the group praised Randy Travis. Actually, I don’t hear much of either Black Flag or Travis in Banditos, so it’s probably better to just sit back and enjoy their music instead of getting hung up playing “name that influence.”
On the album, Banditos save their best for the first. That’s the loud, frantic boogie called “The Breeze,” which is reportedly a tribute to the band’s late, great 1993 Ford Econoline van, which saw them through their early tours. Another instant favorite is “Long Gone, Anyway,” which actually has crazy kazoo solos, prominent banjo and saloon-style piano, and a melody similar to Mississippi John Hurt’s “Candy Man.”
The group comes closest to country music on the twangy “Blue Mosey #2,” which owes a melodic debt to “Lost Highway,” and the fast-paced honky-tonker, “Waitin’,” sung by Richardson. But Richardson’s big moments on this record are a couple of showstoppers called “No Good” and “Old Ways,” both soul ballads into which she pours her heart. Richardson doesn’t actually sound much like Janis Joplin, but she has a throaty warble and a slow-burn attack. She has a way of mesmerizing a listener, so you barely notice when her sweet coo soars into a shout.
I’m impressed, and I want to hear more of these Banditos.
* Hey Y’all, It’s The Beaumonts by The Beaumonts. When I first played the first song on this CD, I almost thought Saustex Records put the wrong disc into the case. It wasn’t the music. The Texas Tornado-flavored “San Antonio” sounded pretty much like The Beaumonts with a Mexican accordion.
But there was something unsettling about the lyrics. There was no profanity! No raunchy sex, no blasphemy, no mention of specific body parts and, with the exception of a quick mention of “cheap weed,” no reference to drugs!
This couldn’t be The Beaumonts I know and love.
But before I could eject the disc to check the label, the very next song, “If You Take Drugs (You’re Gonna Die),” showed the band back in its inspired lowbrow splendor. The song is a bluegrassy (nice mandolin!) stomp that warns “You’ll sell your soul” (and a certain part of your anatomy) “if you take drugs.”
Despite the false start, singer Troy Wayne Delco and the band have crammed in way more of their quota of drinkin’, druggin’, and depravity into this record. There is a song called “Lubbock in the Springtime” about the group’s hometown. Somehow they don’t seem as enamored of Lubbock as they are of San Antonio. After a line about the unpleasant aroma of the place, Delco sings, “I lost my pickup at the feedlot/After drinkin’ nine shots of apple schnapps.”
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“Change My Name” is a gleeful stab at “bro-country,” those Nashville hacks who quit their modeling jobs, wear their baseball caps backward, and try to pass themselves off as outlaws.
“I’m Sorry” is a lengthy apology for all the places where the singer has puked, while “Baby, Tonight!” is about anticipating a heavy date in which Delco hopes to impress a woman with “dinner at my mama’s” and showing her his porno collection.
But if the lyrics veer toward the sophomoric, the truly amazing thing about The Beaumonts is what a tight band they are. “Hollywood” Steve Vegas is an ace country guitarist, while steel guitarist Chip Northcutt, who undoubtedly prays at least three times a day to the late Ralph Moody, is the group’s secret weapon.
In addition to this album, a few weeks ago, Saustex re-released the group’s first album, Get Ready for The Beaumonts. The bio sheet for the album says, “The label has spared no expense in carefully restoring the master tapes which were rescued from a ‘Bonfire of Filth’ sponsored by the Central Lubbock Baptist Church.”
First a couple from Banditos
And here's a classic tune from The Beaumonts