Local Record Review: 'What a Thrill' by the Kettle Drivers
What a Thrill
Costa Mesa's own Kettle Drivers are about to engage in a month's worth of shows all around the county, including a residency at the Avalon Bar in their hometown, so nobody can say they don't keep busy. The trio's also had their album What a Thrill out for a bit so it's about time we said something about it, because there's never anything wrong with an instrumental act delivering the kind of could-be-surf/could-be-rockabilly/could-be-country/could-be-everything-and-anything-really music that they do.
Songs like "Ugly Rita," starting off with a sprawling and strutting guitar melody from bandleader Greg Johnson, and the brilliantly titled "Wet Blanket Sleepover" are prime ruckus-raisers by any measure. "Just Blink" has the kind of stretched out zone in its leads that's almost halfway to something like My Bloody Valentine--not too surprising given Kevin Shields has a healthy appreciation of surf-via-Brian Wilson--while "Ronald Raygun" has the kind of trashy sprawl and roil that the 40th president probably would not have cut a rug to, but sure sounds great right about now. The flipside are tracks like "Help Wanted" and "The Most Beautiful," the latter having Carlen Walth's bass and Shane Thompson's drums setting a steady, moody feeling for Johnson to play a spare but affecting lead over for two minutes, breaking out into a quick, intense break before letting everything wash back over again in lovely fashion.
So sure it's familiar territory to a large degree, but it's the kind of rock and roll that keeps getting ignored for a while until a new generation realizes that Link Wray and Dick Dale and many more were out there making noise that was both crazy and pretty in equal measure, and that plenty of times words aren't needed when there's distortion to be wrenched out of a guitar in any number of shapes and styles while a crack rhythm section keeps it moving. It's a kind of OC roots sound for decades now, and long may it thrive in the right hands like these.