DUSTY RHODES AND THE RIVER BAND are not your typical young West Coast indie rock band. It began with ‘The Last Waltz’, the 1978 Scorcese-directed documentary of The Band, grew through the orchestration of Brian Wilson, and variously thereafter took influence from Hank Williams, Simon & Garfunkel, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Flaming Lips and Pink Floyd. The crowds went where they lead, and with a fairly rabid following in their native Orange County , they had raised enough money for studio time and began work on a debut album. Another of their influences, Isaiah ‘Ikey’ Owens from Mars Volta, had caught them live by chance and offered to produce.
It was another performance in West Hollywood that would attract Sideonedummy Records, home to Gogol Bordello and Bedouin Soundclash. The album is preceded by the perfect antidote to the New Year Blues, the single ‘Dear Honey’, out on 28th January 2008. A shamelessly self-pitying hungover lament, it opens like the theme to a Godfather movie, all mournful mandolin strings, before bemoaning ‘Cause I drank away all my money, I spent the night on the street, I think I just lost my dear honey, who’s gonna take care of me?’.
Those artists who manage to take their classic rock influences, add their own genes, and carry the resulting sound as stunningly live as they can on record don’t come along too often, though when they do - Kings Of Leon, the White Stripes – they make a lasting impression. Dusty Rhodes & The River Band spent two years honing their sound live before putting their music to record. A six piece from Anaheim , California , they were formed by frontman Dusty Apodaca and guitarist/vocalist Kyle Divine over a mutual love of 70’s rock. If classic rock provided the foundation, then the addition of acoustic guitars, accordion and violin turned what could have been one of many identikit new bands into one who set about changing the perceptions of indie music in their locale and beyond with some of the sweetest bluegrass and folk compositions you’ll hear. With a sound that belies their age, it’s that twist which has spread their following from similarly likeminded 20-nothing year olds through to their parents.
Every song on ‘First You Live’ sees some multi-tasking from each member of the band, taking on multiple responsibilities, creating a strikingly diverse debut. From the country swagger of ‘Leaving Tennesee’, the soulful rock guitar of ‘Strike’, the gospel tribute of ‘Keys To The Truck’, psychedelic jam-bandish ‘Ghost Trails’, Cash-esque ‘Then You Pass’, to ‘Street Fighter’ the album’s opus, kicking off with a violin rush before breaking into a classic retro-guitar anthem, Dusty Rhodes & The River Band manage to blend the styles like they were made for each other. Lyrically strong as well, with a central theme of life and death, some of the songs would read as well if they were short stories, in particular ‘Grampa Mac’, a true story from Divine’s own ancestral history, about his great-great grandfather who seemed to like killing people rather a lot.