What does it sound like?:
There’s a kind of music that falls through the cracks of traditional rock-journo classification. Somewhere in the middle of a Venn diagram of punk, traditional rock’n’roll, garage rock and Americana, it’s best enjoyed in a cosy bar room – small enough to appreciate witty lyrics, loud enough to feel the vibes. I’ve written on this site before about the difference between British and US bands in this regard – we do punk well over here, but veer away from its full-throttle dogma and you frequently get into leather-waistcoated pub-rock territory these days. In the States, it’s a rich tradition perfected by the Replacements and best imported over here in the 70s by Chrissie Hynde.
I’ve been following the career of Jeremy Porter and the Tucos since I caught their show at The Islington two summers ago, reviewed on these pages in October 2018. It cheered my old heart to see a US band who played this kind of rock and roll, less fussy than many of their trendier peers but smarter and sharper than either the punk or trad-rock acts they share their venues with. Their fourth album proper finds them at home in the States, sadly unable to tour the places their music shines brightest. Like so many performers, without shows to showcase the new tunes and sell the CDs, it’ll be tougher market for them this time round.
Opener ‘Put You on Hold’ kicks us off at a fair old lick, the fuzzed-out guitars (and vocals) recalling the Stooges or MC5, plus a neat sprinkling of Mysterians-style Farfisa organ. From this, music Sherlocks can hazard a guess the Tucos are from Michigan (and they’d be right) but this song sells you a dummy – we’re not getting forty minutes of Bay Area proto-punk. Candy Coated Cannonball has more swing in most of its other songs, plus some other surprises.
‘The Things All Men Do’ is a prime example of the album’s more eclectic fare – it starts with a shimmery Cooder-ish intro before breaking into a swaggering rocker, then wrapping up with a mariachi-style trumpet solo. ‘October Girls’ is a highlight tucked away in the last-but-one slot, a beautiful voice-and-guitar ditty about inadvisable relationships when the weather gets cold. As well as the less familiar sounds, there’s more traditional stuff for those that know Mr Porter’s work. There are a couple of crackers that I’d love to see live: ‘Upward Trend’ and closing anthem ‘Girls named Erica’ rock out in the accustomed swinging way, and standout ‘Zipper Merge’ follows a rich tradition of American love songs set in cars. The sound is tight and punchy without sounding too ‘studio’ producers Porter and drummer Gabriel Doman have gone light on the fairy dust. New bassist Bob Moulton needs a shout, too, for filling the white loafers of Patty ‘Two Shoes’ O’Harris ably.
It isn’t all zingers. ‘Downriver’ drinks from the Neil Young/Creedence trough a little too deeply, guitar solo and all, showing the band’s ambition and willingness to stretch out doesn’t always come off. There are a couple of other tunes that clearly have go-forward but lack spark on the other side of the speakers. This is nitpicking, though, and for an album created in 2020, it’s welcome relief from the social media-obsessed, over-polished guff that masquerades as rock’n’roll these days.
Candy Coated Cannonball is available on bandcamp and the band’s online store from Friday 22nd January. Lead single ‘Dead Ringer’ is out now.
What does it all *mean*?
Rock’n’roll doesn’t need to be dumb, but it doesn’t have to put on airs either. Sometimes you just want songs like these to tell you a story and put a spring in your heels.
Goes well with…
Wistfully wishing there was live music in the world.
Might suit people who like…
The Replacements, The Hold Steady, Jesse Malin