Frank Dean knows what he's doing. His past bands — Blue DeVille and Sindacato — thrived by mining and updating the roots of American music. This time out, he attacks the blues, and he's got another winner in the Snakehandlers.
Their debut, the perfectly titled Rock plus Roll, leaves you feeling like you stumbled into a roadside bar and discovered an authentic, gritty blues band. You can taste the beer, smell the cigarettes, picture the packed dance floor.
These 11 songs all will sound somewhat familiar — such is the nature of blues riffs — but each one is marked by something distinguishing: Clint Crabb's sweet, smooth slide guitar; Bob Schneider's rolling organ and rollicking piano; Scott Parkhurst's howling harmonica; growled vocals by multiple band members. (Drummer Carl Lo Sasso, bassist Floyd Tucker and guitarist Dean complete the lineup.)
"Ain't Stayin' the Night," about a woman who cheats, sounds like what would have happened if Lowell George-era Little Feat and Eat a Peach-period Allman Brothers wrote a song together. "V-Twin Woman" brings to mind an old-timey version of "Crossroads"; listen to the tambourine and cymbal crash, which really enhance the sound.
Some songs weep (the best of them is "Face Down and Fallin'"), but most rock — especially the raucous "Daddy's Little Angel" and "My Cadillac," which has exactly the call-and-response chorus you'd want and expect.
Most of the lyrics here tread the usual ground of women, cars and misery. But there are some nifty twists. "Slip Into the Leather" adds a little S&M suggestiveness. "90 Miles an Hour" takes on the Madoffs, DeLays and other swindlers who've become public enemies over the past decade or so. And "Your drawers are all empty and clean/'cept the ones you got on," from "Ain't Stayin' the Night," is such a nice line.
Bottom line: Rock plus Roll is a fresh, thoroughly entertaining disc.Stay up to date with The Snakehandlers on their Facebook fan page.