Hallahooping out of western Illinois comes Iron Orchard, pulling off the cool feat of sounding like the hometown band of Just About Anywhere, USA. Zip codes and accents have nothing to do with what’s going on here: there’s a “Hey … don’t I know these guys?” familiarity to the dozen tunes on Iron Orchard’s new For Amusement Only that’ll grab you from the first spin.
Part of what’s going on here is the quartet’s ability to capture the vibes of some pretty substantial tube-amp-propelled marrow music. Consider “2nd Coming Blues”, burbling along with a low-gear rumble before launching into a flat-to-the-mat roar that melds cool and punk. The result sounds something like the late, great JJ Cale fronting a Alabama Ass Whuppin’ – era version of the Drive-By Truckers. The nuts-on rhythm team of drummer Kevin Nichols and bassist Kevin Dean just keeps banging the gears while guitarist/vocalist Bill Harroun lays on the chug and tells the tale – and every now and then they let stringmaster John Gorlewski loose to beat the living dog snot out of his guitar in the coolest of ways.
Other times, the band dwells in that New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Flying Burrito Brothers “That-hippie-boy-was-kinda-fucked-up-but-he-sure-could-drive” place where fuzzy-haired freaks drink PBRs alongside the reddest of necks and everyone’s cool. Gorlewski’s pedal steel tone on “18 Wheelin’ Man” channels Sneaky Pete Kleinow at his weirdest … and just when you think you have the song pegged as a distant cousin to the New Riders’ “Kick In The Head”, everything drops back and Gorlewski comes barrel-assing out of the shadows with a … banjo? And it’s just the perfect thing. Or there’s “Sometimes” – Harroun sounding like a young David Nelson; “Change In The Weather” – with Dean’s swampy bass line challenging the major theme of the main melody; or “Speed Of Sound” offering up the album’s absolute t-shirt-and-tattoo-worthy one-liner: “Running twice the legal limit at the speed of sound.”
Iron Orchard co-produced For Amusement Only with Mark Twitchell, who also handled the engineering chores. Twitchell obviously knew what he was doing when he tucked the quartet into his Macomb, IL studio: there’s no gimmickry or trickery here – just a dry-toned, lo-fi, right now sound that sets you somewhere just to one side of Nichols’ high hat with the amps making your hair flutter. Whether it’s the shitfaced waltz of “Raymond’s Song” (think the Stones’ “Faraway Eyes” without the campiness) or the flathead roar of “Keithsburg 6”, you are right in the middle of things: sizzling cymbals, womping bass, growling, snapping and wailing guitars. Halfway through the Hank-Snow-meets-The-Clash roar of “Out Of Here” Harroun yells “Yeah!” over here while Gorlewski lets fly with a blast of six-string madness over here … and it’s all a matter of decent mics placed properly, a group of musicians playing their asses off and an engineer who knows exactly how to capture it all without taming it in the least.
If you like your rock ‘n’ roll to be real as hell and tons o’ fun, then Iron Orchard’s For Amusement Only is an absolute no-brainer. They’re playing your song – a dozen of ‘em, in fact.
Brian Robbins’ hair flutters over at www.brian-robbins.com