The Bobby Lees
I love a bit of dirty garage rock. But there’s a fine line between garage and garbage. A lot of pretenders. A lot of noble failures too, granted. It can be tough trying to steer straight, even when you aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel as you drive.
The Bobby Lees are the sort of band that win you over instantly. They have everything going for them – tunes, and attitude and energy and ability – and they have the special sauce. Spunk. There’s even a spoken word piece (think The Cramps) dedicated to, erm, exactly that (Ranch Baby).
But first off, the thing that makes these Bobby Lees so good is frontwoman, Sam Quartin. In her other job she’s a film actor. So that might account for how easily she slips into this role. That and the mentorship from the spiritual godfather of the next wave of garage bands, Jon Spencer (he’s the producer of the record). She struts and testifies. She is cold and funny and hard. But there’s heart. Huge heart. Even when this is just a show you cannot fake heart. She’s like Shilpa Ray and Patti Smith and Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland all in one. And the band is like The Voidoids and The Ramones and The Cramps.
There’s also a secret weapon in the band’s drummer. Good bands are ruined by bad drummers. Bad bands survive if they have a great drummer. One listen to Coin and the almost jazzy interplay of The Bobby Lees’ drummer and guitarist lets you know you’re in safe hands musically. That’s a huge help here.
Songs like Move and Guttermilk and Riddle Daddy all turn rockabilly and punk on their ear and stomp down hard. There’s some of the best energy of post-grunge 1990s alt/indie and the early 00s of all that The White Stripes ushered in. But it’s better than that. More whole, more full, more directly indebted to New York’s 1970s scene.
Skin Suit pops and pulses and thrives and feels vital like a great debut album, but it’s actually a second take, so any of the over-eagerness is tempered. (That said, debut, Beauty Pageant is also a fucking gem).
In and around the relentless energy, there are songs, actual songs. Drive with its Johnny Ramone-guitars, Russell with its Reverend Horton, er, heat. And the torched balladry of Last Song.
As codas to the main attraction the band offers a stonking gender-remains cover of I’m A Man. So perfect. And the closing rendition of Blank Generation does to this album what Patti Smith’s take on My Generation did for Horses. It acknowledges the past. And pushes down any barriers, suggesting it deserves to belong alongside all it celebrates. And it does. It really does.
I know I’ve just found my feel good hit for this summer.
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