With a name like Banditos, you might expect this band to be from, say, Texas. But all six members are from Birmingham, Alabama, though now firmly ensconsed in Nashville. The alternative Nashville, that is, where you can still twang and rock and not be too country for rock or too rock for country. Banditos are definitely all rock and all country — country of what they used to call the “outlaw” variety, which is maybe where they came up with their name; and rock of the Southern variety.
Not to pigeonhole the music, but “it is what it is,” as the kids say. Take for instance the song “Long Gone, Anyway,” which starts the second half of this 12-song collection. It’s clearly an homage to guitar hero Merle Travis, being built around the signature melody and lick of one of his best known tunes “Cannonball Rag.” Now, Mr. Travis might have looked askance at the Banditoes’ liberal use of kazoo on this song built around his own, but drawing askance glances obviously is one of the Banditos’ raisons d’etre. That and celebrating the sheer joy of making rock ‘n roll. Witness the gleeful transgressiveness of the previous track, “Still Sober (After All These Beers)” a scorching rockabilly nod to a lifestyle built on excess. It begins, of course, by skewering the title of one the best-known songs by one of the best-known icons of Boomer folk, Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy (After All These Years).” These young pups (all six are reputedly still in their 20s) are probably not “crapped out and yawning” at 4 in the morning.
What they’re probably doing is hanging in some club or bar playing something like this one, the swampy, bluesy slow-burner called “Ain’t It Hard,” complete with surfy guitar.
I realize I skipped the introductions. That’s Corey Parsons on lead guitar and vocals, Stephen Pierce on banjo and vocals (who also plays pedal steel and other things) Mary Beth Richardson on vocals, Jeffrey Salter on the third set of guitar strings, Danny Vines on bass and Randy Wade on drums. This self-titled release is their first after three years of touring and woodshedding, and I’d say they have their sound and attitude down pat. The album opens with “The Breeze,” an homage to and reimagining of J. J. Cale’s best-known number “Call Me The Breeze,” a choogling Southern-fried boogie featuring a two-guitars-and-banjo attack while Corey and Mary Beth wail out the bluesy lyrics. On “Waitin’ ” and “No Good,” Mary Beth shows her strong churchified influences, with lots of vibrato in her soulful wail as she somehow channels both Dolly Parton and Janis Joplin. “Cry Baby Cry” is a flat-out rockabilly boogie that includes some killer piano licks. And when they want to soften it up just a bit there’s “Blue Mosey #2,” a lightly swinging country shuffle that tips the hat to Jimmie Rodgers, and anybody else who has sung the lonesome blues in an alley behind a bar in a small southern town.
Not ready to call it a night? Drop the needle back on this one, pour another round, and let Banditos get you moving. It’s one of the feel-good records of this summer for sure.