Three for the Show
Who ever thought that bands like The Troggs and ? and the Mysterians would be experiencing another blip on the rock radar? Say what you will about the new garage revival, but, hey, at least not everyone is listening to Clay Aiken.
Following the rock-retread path of bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes and Jet, many more artists are turning an ear to the past to create a fresh, new sound. The angst of the digital age seems to be best expressed with three chords and a touch of 'tude.
This week, a trio of likeminded rockers, Michigan's Detroit Cobras, Boston's Mr. Airplane Man and locals The Breaking In, release their own '60s- and '70s-fueled sounds on Burlington.
While the phrase "original cover band" may cause some head-scratching, the Detroit Cobras wear the tag with pride. Formed in the Motor City in the mid-'90s, the group soon gained fame for its vicious deconstructions of classic rock, soul and r&b covers. Guitarist and bandleader Steve Shaw, who had long been obsessed with early U.K. and American rock, assembled the group in order to revisit tunes from the genre's salad days.
Fellow Detroiters guitarist Maribel Restrepo, bassist Jeff Meyer and drummer Damien Lang provided the instrumental punch that Shaw desired. And finally, Shaw found the perfect, if a bit unexpected, vocalist in the form of erstwhile butcher and exotic dancer Rachel Nagy. With a voice reminiscent of Janis Joplin's smoky growl or a debauched Peggy Lee, Nagy completed the Cobras' sound.
In 1998, the Cobras signed with Califor-nia's Sympathy for the Record Industry imprint -- the same label that brought The White Stripes to the public eye. Their 1998 full-length debut, Mink Rat or Rabbit, was a raucous ride through obscure r&b and old-time rock 'n' roll. Always seemingly one step -- or bum note -- away from collapse, the band exuded an inescapable energy.
In 2001, the Cobras released their follow-up, the widely acclaimed Love, Life and Leaving. Following the same retro path, the band rips through supercharged versions of old Motown, soul and rock cuts. Otis Redding's "Shout Bama Lama," a particular standout, buckles under the fiery passion of Nagy's voice.
Recently, the Cobras inked a contract with famed U.K. label Rough Trade Records and released a seven-track EP entitled Seven Easy Pieces.
Mr. Airplane Man, also signed to Sympathy for the Record Industry, have charted a somewhat different course through the sounds of yesteryear. The female duo, drummer Tara McManus and guitarist/singer Margaret Garrett, took their name from a Howlin' Wolf tune and showed an early infatuation with the blues. Though often lumped with The White Stripes as blues-addicted two-piece, Mr. Airplane Man craft a sound that's different from their more famous, red-and-white-clad friends.
Since their early days busking in Boston, the women have generated a mix of firecracker covers (e.g., proto-punkers The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog") and equally electrifying originals.
Their first pair of releases, 2001's Red Light and 2002's Moanin' created a healthy buzz; listeners were transfixed by MAM's vivid songwriting and well-chosen covers. This year, the duo took a major leap forward with C'mon DJ. While also chock-full of seething blues licks, the disc reveals an evolving repertoire. Songs such as "How Long" and "Don't Know How to Love" owe as much to '60s girl groups as to Delta-derived rock.
Burlington's aptly named The Breaking In are doing just that. Guitarist/vocalist John Ravell and drummer/vocalist Todd Haire talked about playing together for five years before actually doing it.
Working together at the Magic Hat brewery, the two bonded over a mutual love of the Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Nick Cave and Johnny Cash. Ravell jokes that he and Haire decided to remain a duo "because we knew we probably wouldn't get along with any other members."
The Breaking In's sloppy, passionate sound is a work in progress, and songwriting is a collaborative effort. "Todd did not play drums before forming the band," Ravell explains. "And he only recently upgraded his kit from a snare and a spackle bucket to a snare and a floor tom." But in true garage spirit, the two are already putting out their first CD, due this week. Hey, why wait?