It's been nearly five years since ragged indie rockers Rock 'n' Roll Sherpa came together -- almost an epoch in the Burlington music scene. Though familiar to local audiences, Sherpa never released any recorded material during this period. Content to exist as an in-the-moment phenomenon, they remained as enigmatic as their band name. Until now.
Well, better late than never. You Don't Say delivers beyond expectations while still leaving plenty of room to grow. A clever but unassuming blast of indie-rock, the album is loaded with sloppily symphonic guitars, tight, punky drumming, melodic bass and charmingly awkward vocals.
Rock 'n' Roll Sherpa is something of a supergroup -- founding guitarist/vocalists Alan Beauregard and Aaron Hornblas are flanked by local luminaries such as The Cush's Gabrielle and Burette Douglas on bass and keys. Talented local songwriter Ryan Power takes a break from the spotlight on You Don't Say, manning the drum kit with tempered finesse.
Hornblas' singing is both gangly and appealing, echoing the left-of-center approach of front men such as Tom Verlaine and Stephen Malkmus. "Give It Up Before You Go" could be a lost '70s NYC classic -- the track crashes and swerves like an exuberant cross between the Voidoids and Television. Who knew Burlington could produce this kind of swagger?
Beauregard's "Good Time" is just that: a lightly psychedelic slow burn that eventually builds into a solid, cordial alt-rock ditty. Gabrielle Douglas' buoyant bass lines propel the song's lazy shuffle through several moods. If it's not as musically adventurous as some of the other cuts, the track has a low-key allure that's hard to resist.
"Said It Best" is simply terrific -- the kind of tune Pavement might have written if they were less cryptic. That track and "Insane Air" demonstrate the intelligence in this group; many bands struggle to sound this inspired, and most fall short of the mark.
In addition to revved-up rockers, Rock 'n' Roll Sherpa are perfectly capable of delivering tender, druggy ballads. Backwards guitars, shimmering Rhodes piano and pedal-steel guitar color "With Sound Asleep," which flutters like a sheet on a laundry line before breaking into soft shards of sound.
A debut like You Don't Say doesn't pop up often, locally or nationally. Congrats to Rock 'n' Roll Sherpa on their achievement; here's hoping we won't be waiting another five years for the follow-up.