Stolen Rhodes are a Jersey-born rock and roll outfit that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to their love of the past. Now, before you misunderstand, this isn’t a band that performs retro music or lives in a period of time far, far behind us. This group plays music in the traditional vein of Traffic, The Guess Who and the Drive By Truckers without getting lost in the influential sauce.
As for their name, I picture some rival backwoods band member running out the backstage door of Porky’s with a Fender Rhodes piano. Well, not running, more like dragging with great effort. Anyhow, that description just so happens to be fairly accurate, as lead guitarist Kevin Cunningham states in their bio, “We had a Rhodes keyboard that was stolen from our singer earlier in his music career. Also, we might have commandeered a Rhodes ourselves from some undisclosed location along the way.” Moreover, the fact that the band sought to reacquire a Rhodes piano, a keyboard that’s been out of fashion for nearly three decades, means that the band’s name isn’t just a funny story; it’s a battle cry hailing the bygone days of analog mojo.
Battle cry or black market ivory scandal, one thing is for sure; Stolen Rhodes put their life experience and hard-earned talent into the music they record and play. Their latest release is titled Falling Off The Edge, and it was recorded in PA and CA. Produced by Capitol Records point man Jake Gorski, who has produced, engineered or assisted on a wide spectrum ranging from Shinedown to Katy Perry and Frank Fairfield, Falling Off The Edge is organic and stark.
As you listen to the tracks, you hear a compositionally smart group that dodges left, throwing in addictive sax runs and key change passages that steer them off of the typical rebel rousing highway and into an area centered more on the arrangement savvy of Steve Winwood meets the James Gang.
And while they admit influential nods to the spiritual influence of Springsteen (Matt Pillion and bassist Dan Haase grew up in the Boss’ backyard), their true mentor here is the ghostly specter of The Allman Brothers.
A song that jumped out at me was the bite of “Peacemaker.” 1960s feedback intro takes flight as the band kicks into a riff-dominated passage that would get the Jersey Devil up and dancing Jesco White style. As a vocalist, Matt Pillion isn’t easy to categorize. Powerful and diverse, his range can go from subtle to full on warrior cry within the context of the song. Think Chris Robinson meets Paul Rodgers and you would be in the ballpark. Bass and drums are heavy duty dynamic, holding down the rhythmic ruckus while making room for dirty, dangerous guitars. From the sound of things, it’s a Gibson-dominated party that snarls all night long.
“Freight Train” is another down home winner. Based off of the band’s Lakewood, NJ connection, the song stems from the old freight lines that ran behind Matt’s grandfather’s place during the vital years of rail freight. “Freight Train” raises the influential spirit of The Guess Who, building from a strong foundation of handpicked electrics, bass drum hits and sunny, Southern California vocals. The middle eight features the pentatonic double lead harmony style of Duane Allman and Dickie Betts, and the big chord washes in the performance style of Grand Funk Railroad. That’s a lot of influences, but I should point out that they are all utilized in a highly original manner that had me playing it over and over.
The second song that I would consider the focus after “Peacemaker” is the laid back Eagles feel of “Beautiful Way.” Pillion’s piano work is well executed and guitars roll crystal clear, breaking up just enough during the chorus to show some teeth before subsiding back into the Eric Skye drum and pocket groove. The interesting addition of trumpet (James Doyle) and sax work of Pillion lifts this song out of the Southern rock arena and drops it onto a funky, left coast journey of commercial revelation. The guitar work of Cunningham is soul crushing blues rock goodness. Utilizing a simple and tasty technique, he gets the point across with zero amount of silly fanfare, squeezing out sustained bends, melodic pull-offs and vibrato-driven notes that go for miles.
Other mentionable picks are the dark and dirty growl of the disc’s title-track. “Falling Off The Edge” throws out imagery of the New Jersey Turnpike, beat up Chevrolets and the act of the prodigal return to one’s roots. Seashore bars swirl with lost and restless souls on the verge of falling off the proverbial edge and the act of fighting back to the top of their game. Drums roll and guitars howl as Pillion throws out his best Shoreworld tone here. I love the stark and muscular guitar and drum build between verses. The middle eight free flows with Echoplexed guitar savvy as Pillion lays into the chorus in ways that would make Paul Rodgers do a double take.
Stolen Rhodes has proved without a doubt that they are not a band comfortable with being pigeonholed into a specific sound or style. They have their likes, but they’re smart enough to use influences as a platform to launch their own undeniable rock and roots sound, a commercially viable sound that should take them high into the visibility sector of the majors.
To check out the entire song selection on Falling Off The Edge, head over to reverbnation.com/stolenrhodes.
David Halpern And Willow Bella Music – Paradiddles Mania! Drums, Drumming And Drum Circles
Had enough bad news from our beloved media? Looking to do something that the whole family can enjoy instead of everyone submerging themselves in Facebook, Playstation and the Horrible Housewives of whatchamacallit?
Well, why not go beat the heck out of your daily frustrations the old-fashioned way? Willow Bella Music, in association with drummer David Halpern, has been running a multi-week course that not only gives you something to take your mind off recent stresses, but teaches you the rudimentary paradiddles of rhythm and structure.
The course has been running for several weeks and is still accepting new members in the current run as well as the next 10-week course, which starts up in Jan. 2013. This is a fun way for everyone to learn the skill of drumming basics. From beginners to families and even seniors, all are welcome to take part.
David Halpern is the course focus and his background includes playing or recording with groups such as the Bee Gees, Highway 9 and Love In Reverse. Halpern says of the course, “It’s about learning and reading different rhythms from around the world. It’s about working together with others. It’s therapeutic, and it’s a great physical and mental workout! If you own a drum, we’ll see you in ‘The Circle’”
The 10 weeks will conclude with a potluck open drum circle on Sunday, Jan. 6, with featured percussionists, flautists, and anyone who is interested. So dancers, percussionists, flautists, lend me your ears—and bring a drum and a covered dish! Donations at the door are appreciated to cover the cost of the event.
The workshop is at The Galleria in Red Bank, NJ. Seating is limited, so be sure to register today over at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling Karen at 1-732-567-0887.