BY FRED MILLS
Once upon the time, the term “indie rock” didn’t so much suggest a musical genre as it delineated a community of like-minded music fans, which included the bands themselves along with college deejays, punk club patrons, record store clerks, journalists like me, and others. Though the actual sonic sensibilities might have differed wildly from one person to the next, there was a sense that we were all in this together. Eventually Nirvana came along, and for better or worse blew up the model. Nowadays, depending on who you are talking to, that early indie-informed aesthetic can seem hopelessly naïve (although the rise of Kickstarter and crowd-sourced patronage clearly has roots in it).
A confession: Another expression of that naivete is how I remain fiercely loyal to my roots, so when I run across somebody from “the old days”—you know, back when we had to walk five miles in the snow each direction just to get to the club or record store, and “download” was a trucking industry term—I can’t help but get a warm feeling in my tummy. Some of them I knew personally, some through correspondence, others merely through “X” degrees of separation from a mutual friend. But all of ‘em are important to my basic frame of reference ‘cos we were in it together, just trying to get good quality music out there and to see that as many people as possible got to hear it.
So it was when I received Til The Bitter End, self-released by one Gary Robert. Tucked into the envelope was a personalized note from Robert that read, in part, “I recognized your name and thought ‘holy crap,’ could that be the same Fred Mills who reviewed my band The Twilight Idols in 1986…” Sure enough: as a regular scribe for the late, great indie mag Option I had indeed reviewed that group’s ’86 album Beyond Good and Evil, saluting how the band had “their tongues in their cheeks, their feet in sweaty bars, their hearts in the spirit of ’76.” That’s a long time ago, but in truth I actually remember the record. Which is a good enough calling card to get me to drop the laser needle on this new effort, one among, I dunno, 150 CDs and LPs I get weekly (do the math).
Robert currently calls Cape Girardeau, MO, his home, and he’s joined in a mutual appreciation for Son Volt, Drive-By Truckers, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and “bad ass country” by Axel Mattingly and Brandon Glenn. They call themselves a Community, and it shows in their tight-but-loose approach to twang ‘n’ roll. From the Steve Earle-esque “Billy Got A Shotgun” and the fuzzed-up Bo Diddley raveup “Take It Back”; to sinewy, modified rockabilly like “4:00 A.M. on Broadway” (there’s a cool homage to “Sweet Home Alabama,” no less) and the more-cowbell, on-the-lam stomper “Nelson’s Farm”; through the revved-up “Ridin’ High,” which sounds like an outtake from Lou Reed’s classic New York album (particularly given Robert singing style; he sounds uncannily like Reed in places); the album’s a nonstop feast of blue collar anthems and a must-hear for any fan of hi-nrg Americana.
Too, throughout the dozen songs here, the trio demonstrates a commitment to honesty and purity, that go-for-it urgency and appreciation for no-frills rawk that informs our most passionate and genuine artists. It’s easy enough to get up there, plug in, and strum out three chords; but not every band understands that you gotta add and the truth to the formula to be truly great.
So what ya been doing for the last quarter-century, Gary? Good stuff.
DOWNLOAD: “Take It Back,” “Nelson’s Farm,” “Ridin’ High”