(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Pretty much everything you need to know about the Stone Cold Roosters can be gleaned from two songs, placed back to back and nestled midway through the local supergroup’s recently released third record, Back in the Bog. The one-two punch of “Last Call” and “Living in a Country Song” represent the dusty, timeless essence of this ace collection of Vermont players, lighting up the record like a buzzing beer sign in the window of a rundown barroom.
“Last Call,” penned by guitarist Ted Mortimer, crackles with insistent Bakersfield swing as bandleader Colin McCaffrey croons in his classic baritone, “Well, I guess the party’s over, and it’s time to say good night.” “They’ll be closing up this honky tonk, and turning out the lights,” he continues, nodding at Buck Owens as Chuck Eller’s piano plinks woozily in the background. He then laments, “But the band is playing soft and low, so let’s have one last dance. / Even though we know that it’s last call for our romance.” The song could almost work as a prologue to Owens’ classic “Close Up the Honky Tonks.” At the very least, it’s a pitch-perfect homage to the era and style, sounding like it could have come out of a Southern California roadhouse in the late 1950s rather than McCaffrey’s cozy central Vermont studio in 2013.
Where “Last Call” trades on bleary-eyed melancholy, the rambling “Living in a Country Song,” written by bassist Casey Dennis, compels with smart, self-aware humor that owes as much debt to George Jones as Johnny Paycheck. For a group of middle-class, middle-aged Vermonters to sing wistfully about “drinkin’ long-neck bottles,” “honky tonkin’ every Saturday night” and going to “church every Sunday, to make it all right” is a bit of a put-on. But, given their rambunctious energy, it’s an inviting ruse and one that highlights the band’s genuine appeal.
Those songs are but two standouts on a record full of them. From the swampy, fiddle-fueled fire of the title track and “Forget About the South” to the rolling, down-home groove of “It Ain’t You, It’s Me” to the cheeky, boogie-woogie shuffle of “Velvet Elvis,” the Stone Cold Roosters pay tribute to bygone honky-tonk heroes with expert ability and sensitivity. And that’s to say nothing of the record’s show-stopping ballads. In particular, album closer “You’ll Still Be Mine” is a tender, heartwarming love song that Don Williams himself would have been proud to claim.
Given the band’s pedigree — it also includes fiddler Thal Aylward, drummer Roy Cutler and pedal-steel player Jim Pitman — it’s no surprise that the Stone Cold Roosters’ third record is good. But no one could have predicted the sheer honky-tonk greatness embodied in Back in the Bog.
Back in the Bog by the Stone Cold Roosters is available at cdbaby.com.