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J-Roddy Walston and the Business: J. Roddy Walston and the Business

J-Roddy Walston and the Business: J. Roddy Walston and the Business

Release Date:2010
Genre:Indie Rock
More info on local act

J-Roddy Walston and the Business

J. Roddy Walston and the Business play a CD release show at the Ottobar July 31 with Tommy Tucker and Beard.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 7/28/2010

Part of your cynical and jaded reptile brain doesn't want to like J. Roddy Walston and the Business. You just don't. And for good reason. There's the piano-driven everything. The unabashed sing-along pop that wants to make every song an anthem. The unmistakable Southern roots of it all. The piano, it bears repeating, with its rock-pop associations with Elton John and Billy Joel and Ben Folds or, perhaps worse, 1950s rock'n'roll, which from the vantage point of the early 21st century might as well being ye olde timey music. And then there's Roddy's utter lack of irony or self-awareness about what he's doing. He's not winking at you from behind knowing jokes or clever references. He's not putting musical air quotes around anything. It's all so fucking earnest.

That sincerity is the quartet's secret weapon. Six years after relocating to Baltimore from Tennessee, Walston and his band can now celebrate the release of their self-titled Vagrant Records debut, which arrives in stores this week riding a solid wave of word-of-mouth media chatter. Since 2005 the group has self-released an EP (2006's LMN EP), a full-length album (2007's Hail Mega Boys), and made audience sweat with its and-party-every-day live shows. Firing off instantly memorable choruses fueled by ear-worm burrowing melodies, it's no wonder the group has attracted national media attention for its unabashed worship at the altar of fun. J. Roddy Walston and the Business is what would happen if Queen and Black Oak Arkansas birthed four boys in the backwoods and let them listen to nothing but Cheap Trick and showtunes.

Which might be J. Roddy Walston and the Business' lone fault: Though its 10 songs rush by in some 38 minutes, you feel exhausted by the album's end. Opener "Don't Break the Needle" marries a kinda/sorta ragtime piano line to the rhymed-couplet gem "now I've been pulling thread doing all kinds of evil/ now you hate me baby but don't break the needle" and then ignites them both with a explosive burst of glam-rock sass. "Full Growing Man" aspires to be equal parts Bay City Rollers and Gilbert and Sullivan and just about gets there, while "Used to Did" Queens-up a Little Richard piano wiggle into something that belongs in a 1970s movie co-starring fast cars, misbehaving youth, and bikinis. And "I Don't Wanna Hear It" is outright Lindsay Buckingham golden sunshine pop.

And while it's all quite breathless, Business really works when the band eases up off the gas a bit. "Caroline" and "Pigs & Pearls" feel like some of the better songs the Band never wrote, with Walston sounding like he's actually trying to channel Richard Manuel on the latter. But it's wistful "Brave Man's Death," with its aspirations of living a life hard and deep enough to be worthy of the title, that hits the hardest here. The story of man with a rough and tumble go at it--the song's narrator sings his father died "the day I got a gun, said that he was proud that I's his son," and whose mother took a favorite recipe, and her life, to the grave "with a note clenched in her right hand/ said, 'Boy if you want to live, you better die like a brave man." So he spends his days not wanting to "die in the middle of the night/ I want a brave man's death." The song is powered by a carousel sing-song organ line that gets knitted into a honky-tonk stomp, which adds a peculiar grit to Walston's technicolor lines, which bounce from Davis Grubb vivid ("spitting gasoline, burning my teeth, getting salt on the fields of my past") to Raymond Carver direct ("I had a woman/ she had some kids/ she said she loved them/ I never did"). "Brave Man's Death" isn't exactly a happy song, which might be what causes it to linger in the palette longer: It's where Walston and the Business put their considerable gifts for ass-moving into something that the aims much higher--squarely at the heart and head.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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