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Grain Belt Rock Revue showcases alt-country talent

Cicero's Basement Bar, St. Louis, April 20, 1996

By Eric Zehnbauer

ST. LOUIS - The city is becoming known as a hotbed of talent in the alternative country music scene. After all, this is the town whence originated Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Son Volt, and the Bottle Rockets.

But the St. Louis music scene isn't content to rest on its laurels.

Promoter Kip Loui put on the second of his "Grain Belt Rock Revue" shows this year to showcase the new, up-n-coming talent on the St. Louis alt-country scene.

The shows also promoted and helped finance the soon to be released "Out of the Gate - II" compilation CD, featuring the same acts (the original "Out of the Gate," released in 1990, featured, among others, Chicken Truck, which went on to become the Bottle Rockets).

Saturday's show, before a two-thirds-full house, featured Grandpa's Ghost, Free Dirt, and Caution Horse.

Grandpa's Ghost opened the evening on a disappointing note. It may have been partly due to the fact that their bass player didn't show up, but that excuse didn't explain the singer's weak vocal ability. Although the two guitarists certainly were talented, they spent too much time "noodling" around on their guitars, each trying to be the new Neil Young. The one bright spot of their set was their guest fiddle player, introduced only as Sam, who joined them on a few (sadly, too few) songs.

Next up was Free Dirt, a new band from south St. Louis. They weren't especially polished, but they played good, solid honky-tonk/pub rock, and they played it with an enthusiasm and sense of just having fun that's not seen often enough. These guys were having the time of their life.

The headliner, and rightfully so, was Belleville, Ill.'s' Caution Horse. What is it about Belleville that produces such outstanding talent? Uncle Tupelo originated in Belleville, now these guys.

Out of the crop of new bands on the scene, many of which have borrowed heavily from the Tupelo style, this is one band that can claim to be their equal, talent-wise. They didn't exactly have good on-stage patter between songs; rather, they let the music do the talking. Dave, the diminuitive lead guitarist, looks almost amusing as he holds his big, hollow-body Gretsch that appears nearly as big as him. But as soon as he started playing there was no question who was the boss.

Caution Horse's set displayed their usual haunting vocals on some numbers, balanced on other songs by crunching power chords, while their lyrics explored themes from life in the rural heartland. The crowd ate it up!

Caution Horse currently has a four-song EP cassette in release, "Gravel." They're working on a CD, hopefully to be released soon. Keep an eye on these guys; they could be the next big thing to come out of southern Illinois.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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