It's an age-old question: how does an electrifying stage band translate their bumptious energy to the controlled artistry of a record release? The Dustbowl Revival faces that challenge, not because their recordings lack power and inventiveness, but because their live presence delivers aural swagger and multi-instrumental punch.
"The Dustbowl Revival," the band's first full-length CD does the job. From the crashing drums, which introduce "Call My Name" and leading straightway throughout, the high-energy, recklessly tempoed songs deliver.
The Dustbowl Revival features two equally accomplished lead singers, Liz Beebe and Zach Lupetin. Beebe, who hails from the folk seacoast environs of New Hampshire, blasts pitch-perfect lyrics. She's a force of nature, both on stage and on record. "The Dustbowl Revival" manifests her soulful siren sound to great effect. Lupetin, the band's founder, hails from Chicago and put this bunch together over the last 10 years. He, too, has a strong voice and stage presence, presenting an amalgam of Paul Simon and James Brown. On "The Dustbowl Review," Beebe initially takes center stage, but by the time "Debtor's Prison" comes around, Zupetin's on equal footing with Beebe in the mix. Either one could front a powerful band; together they offer a unique combination of thrust and melody.
But The Dustbowl Revival has other surprises for the listener. The songs are well-crafted and display lyrical depth. The band resists, for the most part, the current pop obsession favoring anthemic builds and its to their credit that The Dustbowl Revival is writing songs that have a beginning, middle and end.
Beebe torches "Busted," letting loose with a swinging, downward-progression, "You think you got something, but you don't got nothin', baby, if you don't got me." Keb 'Mo, nearly ever-present these days and for good reason, joins in on "Honey I Love You." Beebe channels Stevie Nicks on "Leaving Time," and the comparison serves Beebe well.
The band is more than the two leads, although it's hard to ignore their power. From the days of Blood, Sweat and Tears through St. Paul and The Broken Bones (The Dustbowl Revival's only peer in the Americana-blue-eyed soul category), roots bands have struggled with integrating brass sections. The DBR's solution is that less is more: trumpeter Matt Rubin and trombonist Ulf Bjorlin comprise the brass section, and they more than fill the need, delivering percussive counterpoints that complement drummer Joshlyn Heffernan and bassist James Klopfleisch delivering a never-ending groove. Bjorlin, in particular, can single-handedly lash his trombone licks in service of the beat. The record makes less use of mandolinist Daniel Mark and fiddler Connor Vance than does the stage show. "Leaving Time" features some nice string counterpoints, but the exception is Lupetin's easy-rolling ballad "Got Over." Even there, the brass section seems to have more to offer in the conversation.
There's not a dud in the mix. This is a record that captures and presents the essence of a tight, powerful and ambitious band.