by Mark Allen
The last time this particular style of rock music was hot, bell bottoms were in style, Nixon was resigning as President of the United States, and The Brady Bunch was one of the most popular shows on television. Yeah, you guessed it, this is ’70s rock through and through, not content to simply borrow from that era, but actually sounding like something recorded back then. Whether or not that is a good thing will depend on your musical palate and your tolerance for a hefty amount of negative aspects.
The first thing that pops out at the listener is the subpar production; even by garage rock standards, this is poorly produced, the sonics muffled and muddy. Of course, maybe some slack-cutting is in order; after all, these guys are a low-rent indie band, so odds are the budget to record this album was gleaned from collecting the loose change out of their tattered couch cushions and returning empty beer bottles for the nickel deposit. So, yeah, maybe the band deserves a little sympathy. Besides, once your ears have adjusted to the rawness, it’s not so bad, though it is a bit jarring at first if you’re accustomed to the Pro-Tooled production jobs prevalent in today’s music scene.
The music itself is about as fresh as Jerry Garcia’s corpse, borrowing liberally from Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, and even Iron Butterfly and mashing it all together into a mix-and-match slurry of unoriginal sound. This is down and dirty rock, not just in terms of the aforementioned production values, but in its throwback approach to the rock music genre. It harkens back to a free-spirited time when there was no formula for this kind of music, when artists were free to write any damn thing they pleased and as long as it had some drums and guitars, it was accepted as a rock record. While The Hot Rails haven’t exactly created anything that justifies this freedom, you sure can’t blame them for wanting to wallow in this kind of excessively liberalistic rock age.
Vocalist Ken Janssen sounds like a poor man’s Gene Simmons—and no, that is not a compliment—but it kind of works within the context of the sloppy, carefree style of ’70s retro-rock on display here. Nothing about this album exudes professionalism; rather, it comes across as a bunch of frat boys buying some cheap drums and guitars at a sleazy pawn shop, recording some amateur-hour songs about whatever debauchery tickled their beer-pickled brain-meat at the moment, and releasing it to the masses to see if anyone else enjoys the joke. This may play great at the local clubs, but those clubs will most likely be the pinnacle of this band’s success, as they hardly seemed destined for bigger and better things. Since Janssen, the mainstay of the group, describes himself as “the laziest man in show business,” perhaps they don’t even really care.
The Hot Rails are at their best when opting for a more driving sound. The opening track “Trigger Finger” is a good example of this, with a cracking rhythm that doesn’t exactly scream hard rock, but delivers more energy than many of the other early punk-tinged tunes that litter this album. “Dealbreaker” also semi-works for the same reason and “Death From Above” actually manages to claw its way out of the ’70s and into the early ’80s to channel some hints of early Iron Maiden. If you latch on to anything at all to enjoy about this release, it will most likely be that trilogy of tunes.
In closing, let’s talk about the album cover. It’s drawn cartoon-style, featuring a pimped out Scooby Doo-style van perched on top of a mountain of intertwined characters, including naked women, skeletal zombies, horned devils, tentacled monsters, loin-clothed barbarians, pipe-smoking gurus, and assorted other characters. If you just thought to yourself, “Whoa, dude, thanks for the skinny…sounds totally far out,” then The Hot Rails may be right up your musical alley.
Genre: 70s garage rock
Charles Druesedow (drums)
Ken Janssen (vocals)
Nick Licata (bass)
David Paolucci (guitar)
James Rychak (guitar)
1. Trigger Finger
2. I Am Supernatural (But I Don’t Believe in the Supernatural)
4. Death From Above
5. Black Horse
6. Dickson, TN
7. Other Man
8. Snakes n’ Sparklers
Hardrock Haven rating: 4.3/10