Thursday, March 04, 2010

Reform School Girl by Nick Curran & The Lowlifes

When Link Wray died in 2005 the papers ran the usual stories, but the one that frequently took center stage described how Wray’s signature tune, “Rumble,” inevitably started fights on the dance floor during concerts. George Pelecanos recreated the scene early in Hard Revolution (A); after reading that, I was keen to discover the song that could summon such a tidal wave of testosterone. One quick YouTube video later, I had to scratch my head. This used to get the fellas scrapping?

Today’s noise is tomorrow’s hootenanny, as DEVO used to say. I thought nothing more of my reaction until last week, when I saw Jimmy Page trying to explain precisely just how Wray’s “Rumble” completely reshaped the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll. Page lowers the stylus onto the groove, steps back as the song plays, then points out when different shifts in distortion and reverb pull the song taut like a bowstring. For a few short seconds I could hear a little of the drama and menace that Page, and others, still hear in that song.

After American Graffiti and Happy Days and countless shake & burger stands it is remarkable to me that rockabilly hasn’t yet been reduced to tepid soundtrack fodder with all the drama of Dick Clark’s hairpiece. But as Reform School Girl by Nick Curran and The Lowlifes amply demonstrates, rockabilly still has an undeniably primal energy to it that prevents it from becoming a mainstay at Disney’s Main Street USA. As with the Stray Cats and The Blasters (note the presence of Dave Alvin in “Flying Blind”), Curran uncovers the bloody steak at the heart of rockabilly and tears off bite-sized strips for some feral audience consumption. It’s all cheap thrills and low-rent spills, and it’s still very noisy. And while that might not yet compel me to scrounge up the old motorcycle jacket, it will more than suffice to keep me humming through this spring’s wash ‘n’ wax of the family wheels. A, e.

Correction: The Zeppelin member in question was guitarist Jimmy Page, not vocalist Robert Plant, as I originally wrote.

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