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The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns

Rockabilly Deluxe – 2013 (Lanark)

Reviewed by Dustin Blumhagen

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CDs by The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns

As the title of their latest release suggests, The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns play rockabilly. The genre tends to have its limits, often an unfortunate trap for groups trying to stand out from the crowd. Some have managed to rise above the rest through blending with other genres (Tiger Army, Wanda Jackson's recent releases), but most rockabilly groups suffer from the trappings of their genre.

These guys aren't trying to draw new fans into the culture; they play straight forward modern rockabilly with occasional flourishes. They kick off and set the tone with the surf beat of "King of the Slot Car Track." This is music for guys with greased back pompadours and ladies with long legs and Bettie Page bangs. The lyrics are exactly what would be expected after reading the title of the album. Cars, girls, bowling alleys.

They affect a Stray Cats swagger on "Long Gone Daddy," almost to the point where they owe Brian Setzer royalties. Vocalist Wendell Jones has a deep voice, and he puts on his best Elvis impression on "Bowling Alley Baby." The bass lines are almost interchangeable with any other rockabilly band out there today.

There is a brief moment of excitement on "Wild, Crazy & Out of Control," when they lean a little toward psychobilly, but Jones' vocal limitations drag down the track. The rough edge of the music and the eerie gang vocals hint at potential, but the song never quite reaches that point. They add in some humorous Spanish influences on "I Used to be the One." At moments, this song brings to mind Junior Brown, both because of Jones' baritone and the goofiness of the song. The album closes off with the strange "It's Rock & Roll," which is the only time the group takes a chance. Unfortunately, it falls flat and after the first listen is ripe for the skip button.

At their best, the Reach Around Rodeo Clowns bring to mind The Sadies great "Rat Fink" project. The musicianship is great, even if it is a little too predictable. The Clowns play great rockabilly music and nod to a wealth of artists who came before, from various eras of the genre. But like the instrumental Sadies' album, "Rockabilly Deluxe" would be a great album without Jones' uninspired vocals distracting listeners. Rockabilly fans may enjoy this release, although there are definitely more worthy releases they should track down first. Those who can't stand the genre will find nothing here to sway their opinion.