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The Road Kings
The Road Kings
(Surfdog) - 09/02/1999

At first glance, the Road Kings' black leather, sideburns, stand-up bass and fixation with vintage cars makes them seem like your basic Fifties-friendly act. But a listen to this self-titled debut disc makes it clear that the Texas trio (who will perform Friday, September 3, at the 15th Street Tavern) is much more than that. At their worst, the Kings make up an inspired outfit that successfully combines rockabilly, Lone Star blues and metallic rock into a thoroughly entertaining whole. At its best, the band stirs up the most bad-assed, dark and dirty roots raunch around.

The secret to the band's success lies in triple-threat singer/guitarist/songwriter Jesse Dayton. For his singing alone, Dayton gets the nod for this year's where-in-hell-did-this guy-come-from award. A husky crooner who oozes personality with every stylistic stretch, Dayton leaps from weary bluesman to hepcat yelper and blue-metal mauler, somehow combining the better parts of Elvis, Axl Rose, David Lee Roth and Howlin' Wolf. Yeah, it's a monster that sounds scary, but it works -- thanks to Dayton's cheekiness and vocal winks. The cocky workmanship of drummer Richie Vasquez and slap bassist Jason Burns (not to mention the speakers-breathing-on-your-neck production of James Saez) make it clear that these boys are serious.

The disc's opener, "Hurdy Gurdy Monkey Shine," sets the tone. A hillbilly stomper, it features Dayton's sassy pomaded vocals and stinging crystal-meth country licks. "Gunslinger Blues" is a clear standout, a back-porch acoustic blues that explodes into a loping three-chord roar, pushing a tale of cozy Texas life in which the "devil's on the front porch knocking at the screen door" and "Daddy shoves a gun in his face." The singer's family sends Satan on his way to a jaw-dropping Dayton slide solo that cools off only to return to the porch and a dobro. In the spaghetti-Western-themed "Boystown," Dayton hits the mark on another solo that might lead lesser players to consider giving up the guitar for good. The blues-rock vibe returns on the punchy "Up One Side (Down the Other)," though "Are You Gonna Get Real?" takes things a shade too far: It's Seventies-cum-Nineties funk bordering on Lenny Kravitz cliche and one of the few times the band veers off the pavement.

The Kings must have some self-imposed quota for both style-straddling and unexpected surprises. They visit the Bo Diddleyed voodoo camp in "Casting My Spell" and the Reverend Horton Heat in "Supercop" and "HotWired"; "Holdin' On Again" is a delicious slab of Pete Townshend power chords and rumba, of all things, a retro-metallic lovers' lament torched midway by more Dayton string magic. "Deep Inside" is a highlight, a sin-and-betrayal huncher with one-chord verses, jackknife bridges and Dayton's dastardly vocals. The Road Kings score more often than the Broncos' offense; that they do so in such a fresh fashion is as impressive as the royal appeal of this head-spinning, genre-blending disc.

-- Marty Jones

Buy it at CDNOW.

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