It’s good to hear music played with obviously beaming smiles.
Colin Irwin 2009
“Death, booze and heartbreak” reads the subtitle on an ironic sleeve picture depicting the thrills and spills of the Wild West. It’s a seductive image and the music is certainly rooted in the popular concept of a B movie America, where free-spirited cowboys gallop across prairies, and their currency is the six gun.
But while the energetic vocals and deliciously potent lead guitar of Alabama-born Mike Hammond certainly give them authenticity, this is a band concerned not so much with the finer points of Americana as the more basic, root qualities of frantic rhythms and unconditional fun. Much of the credit for this good-time breathlessness – and the pervading sense of curiosity accompanying it – is down to Mark Kermode, the celebrated English film critic and broadcaster, who furiously slaps stand-up bass while blowing into a harmonica as if his life depends on it.
The suspicion lurks that they wouldn’t have got past novelty value if not for the ubiquitous Kermode’s public profile, but there’s an appealing honesty in their full-blooded 12-bar blasts and the exuberant cacophony of snare drums, banjo, washboard, guitar, ukulele and mandolin that go with them. They are in essence playing skiffle music, the product of 1920s American jug bands who, too poor to buy proper instruments, improvised on household items, an approach adopted by thousands of British teens who were inspired by Lonnie Donegan to create the skiffle phenomenon that briefly swept the UK in 1957.
The Dodge Brothers, though, are a touch more sophisticated than any of the bands who briefly tasted fame in that era, astutely blending runaway rockabilly with a couple of stirring ballads that would shine in any setting, The Ballad of Frank Harris and the genuinely lovely I Don’t Want You to Go. They effusively doff caps to America’s rock’n’roll roots but aren’t merely revivalists and their biggest problem is in transferring the excitement they naturally generate on stage into the impersonal confines of a recording studio. They don’t quite pull that off, but it’s still good to hear music played with such obviously beaming smiles.