This was originally written for Listen Before You Buy.
Sometimes when I listen to music, I know I am getting a piece of the artist’s heart right there in the song. That feeling is nearly matchless. That’s how I felt when I first heard Suburban Dirts. Rockabilly rock hasn’t sounded this raw yet well-delivered in a long, long time.
Frontman John Wheatley sings like he grew up during the same era as our grandfathers, with a hint of our time around the edges grounding him. Alluding to everything from the Cold War to Dostoevsky, only on ‘Tacho Breakdown Blues (Part 2)’, the first song, Wheatley never sounds like he’s trying to be from the past, it just suits him.
Heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, this record is clearly made by artists, and I don’t use that word lightly. Wheatley and the rest of the band co-wrote most of the songs and it shows. Everything from the echoey, buzzy recording style to the intricately played rag time piano, unrelenting bass and Wheatley’s own down-home vocals make it hard to believe this band is British, of all things! I could’ve sworn they were straight out of Alabama myself.
Wheatley uses the same chilling irony in his writing that Dylan used – lyrics chock full of allusions from every walk of life and phrases so arresting they both confuse and amuse the listener. This is certainly displayed in ‘Lost In Transcription’, a track that even an infrequent Dylan listener will note draws on ‘Highway 61 Revisited‘, both in lyrical style and musically. One of my favorite lines, when Wheatley says “That’s when I discovered I was in a movie scene/ Jimmy Stewart makin eyes at Bruce Springsteen” creates a connection so visual, so culturally salient, that I laugh every time.
Departing from this overarching style of song into a more personal realm, both ‘Stuck On You’ and ‘Someday, Baby’ delve into matters of the heart with a shovel so sharp it could break through even the most thickened skin and turn up the soft, mushy center of love that surely must lie at the center of every human being. ‘Someday, Baby’ is also certainly worth a listen, using classical strings and an instrumental break in a manner that somehow remains in the same vein of “dirty country blues” that the band dub their sound.
A record like this is always a welcome find to me, as I tend to always lean a little toward the folksy, bluesy and country realms of the auditory palate, but something about Suburban Dirts juts out above the the crops and crops of bands sprouting up with these influences. They are raw, but not undercooked; they are drawing on the history of sound in this genre without actually stealing from it; and they span a multitude of topics and themes without ever losing focus on simply using music to tell the experience of life, with imagery that inlays itself in your mind like a mosaic.
Stream their entire album as a continuous stream on Soundcloud while you’re at it.