BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS
What happens when you put The White Stripes, Mudhoney, The Rolling Stones, Skip James, The Sonics Zeppelin and The Ramones in a gunnysack, hang it from a tree then beat it vigorously with a 39 ounce Louisville Slugger? The remnants that come tumbling to the cold ground are the St. Joseph, Missouri band Scruffy and the Janitors. Scruffy, a band that takes its name from a seldom used character on Matt Groening’s “Futurama”, are a band with talent way beyond the kitsch that their selection of band name implies.
Barely out of their teens, the trio Steven Foster, along with brothers Teriq and Trevin Newton, has put together a debut in Pino that, in only a year or so as a band, is a cohesive offering, and the first big steps toward rock n roll maturity if there is such a thing.
“Pino” blows out of the gate with ‘90s alternative scream blues of “PM”; it is a kick in the crotch, rock n roll tantrum awash in a flood of distortion. “Poor Boy” is the classic blues tale of “I’m broke and can’t get home,” “Know It All” is a middle finger to an unnamed poser with nothing more to do than run his mouth and pass judgments. “There’s A Ghost” plays like good old walkin’ blues with just a splash of Nirvana for flavor. Foster’s “oh oh ohs” on “Plain Jane” are tuned into Joey Ramone’s ghost with precision, making the song come on like the grandson of Danny and the Juniors’ 1950s sock hop pop.
The debut is a demolition set to the beat of ten songs; it is a solid look at what a Scruffy show is all about: it’s scuzzy, distorted, loud, impatient, imperfect racket that, ultimately, becomes a thing of triumph and pleasure. In all its disheveled wonder and ruckus, a good ear can pull back the layers of Pino to hear the band that resides there: one that is overflowing with potential, music knowledge and talent that is concealed by their youthful appearance. Pino rings true in a time when, too often, bands play what will sell or what is baptized “cool” by the tastemakers of the music world. This debut is a nice break from pretension and manufactured posturing; Scruffy play what they love with no apologies or regrets.
The boys use all the tools at their disposal. They kick up the distortion when it is needed (“Post Meridian”, “Know It All”) and break out Teriq’s harmonica skills when a Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers vibe is in order (“Use Me Up”). Trevin (at 17, the youngest of the group) can work his drum kit with minimalist Meg White simplicity or punish them like a stubborn horse and when Steven needs to be pensive, lamenting the difficulties of the world, he does it superbly, as is the case with “Rosie.”
Not all is perfect with “Pino” however. The production is dodgy in places but does a good job showing the band in all their garage rock snottiness (it was recorded at home), and the Son House/Jack White fascination is a bit too apparent but hey, they’re young and broke. Pino is a good first shot, pushing Scruffy and the Janitors near the top of the pile of good bands brewing in St. Joseph right now. As Scruffy put more performances under their belts, spend more time sharpening their instruments, experience more of life’s trials, and with a professional knob turner in the studio, Scruffy and the Janitors have all the makings for a topnotch rock n roll band. Hell, they could be one of the best things to come out of St. Joe since Big Chief writing tablets, Walter Cronkite or Aunt Jemima pancake syrup.
DOWNLOAD: “Post Meridian” “Plain Jane”