There's no questioning the Brass Kings' energy, talent and do-it-yourself attitude (Who needs a bass when you've got a bucket and a rope? Who needs a drum set when you've got a refrigerator door?). But if there was one problem with the trio's 2006 self-titled recording, it was an empty-room coldness that made it hard to listen to the whole thing in one sitting.
That problem has been solved on "Washboard Rope Guitar." Like the first disc, it was recorded live in a studio, but it has a richer, warmer sound, and that makes these Minneapolis bluesmen more accessible.
Don't look for a breakout top 40 single, though. Instrumentally, this is what music must have sounded like before the advent of the guitar-bass-drums setup.
But lyrically, Steve Kaul - who sings and plays acoustic and resonator guitars - is firmly planted in the 21st century. "I'll fly on the World Wide Web ... Flying down that lonely superhighway," he sings on "Superhighway Blues." On another track, he gets the "Company Man Blues," and what office worker can't relate to that?
The Brass Kings are Mikkel Beckmen (left), Brad Ptacek and Steve Kaul. The band will perform a CD release show for its sophomore album at 9 p.m. Friday at the Eclectic Cafe in downtown Brainerd.
A song about a family's house burning to the ground fits the traditional blues mold. But while the olden-days music conjures images of bandits riding into town on horseback and setting straw rooftops ablaze, the song is a present-day tragedy. We can tell because the insurance company has gotten involved: "Insurance adjuster/Won't you come on to my home/My good girl, she's crying/We lost everything we own."
If you spin
Artist: The Brass Kings
Album: "Washboard Rope Guitar"
Label: Dream Horse Records
Highs: This album sounds warmer than the previous disc, and Steve Kaul's songwriting is topical and clever.
Lows: If you don't like the blues, this CD isn't for you. There's room for even more variety on future efforts.
On the Web
For song samples from the Brass Kings' "Washboard Rope Guitar," click here.
Kaul's axwork always moves at a fast clip, and Mikkel Beckmen and Brad Ptacek keep up on those makeshift soundmakers, yet there is variation in the album's pace and mood. While "Insurance Adjuster" is a dark downer, the tambourine-enhanced "Tin Man" is immediately more upbeat and relaxed.
Kaul is also becoming a better vocalist. Sure, he's a little gruff at times, but at his softest and sweetest, he sounds like Dan Wilson on the last good Semisonic album.
The shaggy-haired frontman's lyrics often earn a bemused grin: "I'm goin' back to Bigville/Where the guns are small/If you shut all of your windows/You can barely hear them at all."
But the words aren't there just for the sake of being clever. "Tin Man" moves like a roaring lion, but because Kaul doles out the details slowly, it allows us to grasp the yarn more deeply: "She's got Illinois plates/She's got Illinois plates/On a Cadillac with Illinois plates."
And the miles in your vehicle of choice will zip by when you listen to transporting instrumentals like "Western Lands" and "17th Crow Wing Lake Breakdown," two comparatively leisurely tracks. Since there's no rush to sneak lyrics in there, Kaul just enjoys playing the music.
You'll enjoy hearing it.
The Brass Kings will perform a CD release show at 9 p.m. Friday at the Eclectic Cafe in downtown Brainerd. Admission is $4.
Web sites: www.brasskings.com, www.myspace.com/brasskings.
JOHN HANSEN, entertainment editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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