(Cow Island Records, CD)
Dust off those shitkickers, Burlington. Your blue-collar heroes ride again. Rooted in rockabilly, the Starline Rhythm Boys have been shaking honky-tonks for a decade, evoking an era of checkerboard floors and poodle skirts. Their latest, Masquerade For Heartache, finds the trio plugged into Charlie O’s — that Capital City citadel of sin — where guitarists Al Lemery and Danny Coane lead a jukebox jubilee. All that’s missing is the chicken wire, as the Boys resurrect salty anthems (“Red’s Place”) and 10-gallon covers (“Trucker from Tennessee”) to rowdy effect.
Anchored by Billy Bratcher’s strolling bass, Heartache is a vintage buffet. Western boogie? Check. Hillbilly blues? Yep, it’s all here. And if Coane’s lyrical twang sounds just a bit south of his native Montpelier, blame it on the Narragansett — beer sweetens the masquerade.
The truth of it is, red hot or relaxed, the dukes of drawl bleed country music. They harmonize Jim Foley’s lonesome “Goodbye Train” and flame-broiled “Workin’ Man Blues,” a Merle Haggard classic. “I drink my beer at Charlie-O’s!,” Coane shouts to audience cheers. It’s hard to resist such Green Mountain charm, especially when wry bar ballads — like “I’m Fed Up Drinking Here” — sound more Nashville than Nectar’s.
Even originals feel like radio hits. “Jive After Five” is a swinging “Happy Days”-esque romp that’s as satisfying as a cherry cola. Dobro master Kevin Maul lends his expressive steel guitar, but it’s Lemery’s seasoned Telecaster that burns. Imagine America’s sock-hop soundtrack channeled through Junior Brown; it’s the dawn of rock ’n’ roll!
These Daddy-Os know how to play a room and seldom stray from the beat. Indeed, without a drummer in the mix, the Boys defy convention, slapping bass lines and hustling along with impeccable rhythm. It’s so percussive, you’d never know the difference.
“Ubangi Stomp” is a fat slice of rockabilly that draws howls as Lemery zings through solos. This is hard-driving “Hee-Haw” that’ll put a jump in your boots faster than a rattlesnake. Not bad for three guys in wingtips.
Fueled by easy cowboy humor and veteran chops, Heartache is a live-session locomotive. It’s also a brisk listen at 10 tracks — perhaps they should have called it the Starline Express. As jug bands crash the farmers market and city folk swoon over the latest local flavor, Vermont’s boogie-woogie kings seem as relevant as ever. So trade up that martini, Slick. You’ll be banging beers on the table in no time.