The Vice Rags are an all-star veteran ensemble assembled from the embers of Mercy Circle, Mars Needs Women, Kid With Man Head, Acid, The Blakes, and Readymade Breakup. As The Vice Rags, vocalist-guitarist Paul Rosevear and drummer Joe Chyb, who grew up together in North Brunswick, and lead guitarist Jack Roberts and bassist-vocalist Gay Elvis, who grew up together in Hillsborough, have banded together to pay loving tribute to the ’50s and ’60s sounds that influenced the ’70s and’80s styles on which they were raised and led to big noises of their own.
Recorded by Parlor Mob/gods great Paul Ritchie at Insidious Sound Studio in Neptune, the Asbury Park/Jersey City-based outfit’s self-titled six-song EP kicks off with “Shut Up & Love Me,” which is what Elvis Presley might have sounded like if he stepped into Sun Studios today rather than in 1954. The blend of punk and rockabilly is more its own thing than punkabilly, kind of like The Cramps. The many treats of this tasty track include sweet rolling bass lines from Gay Elvis and Jerry Lee-like breathless vocals by Rosevear.
“The Vice Rags” takes a left turn at “Pretty in Pink,” “St. Elmo’s Fire,” and “The Breakfast Club” with the edgy love song, “One Heart,” featuring buzz-saw guitars and a variety of atmospherics that would sound good in a new movie. Fans of early U2, Echo & the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs and The Clash will enjoy this track.
Mixing things up nicely, The Vice Rags tap into New York Dolls and very early Aerosmith for “Jersey Boy.” The spirited romp pleads with an ex who bailed to BK that she is much better off back home in the arms of a “Jersey Boy.” If Bruce Springsteen had remained more influenced by Robert Gordon than Woody Guthrie, he might have written something like the Clash-like, Tom Petty-tinged rocker “Out on the Street,” which makes a nice two-for with the Boss’ “Out in the Street” from 1980’s “The River.”
The tasty “Alright by Me” follows with a nod to the British Invasion, particularly The Stones and The Hollies. This track features the record’s best lyrics: “Well, the fashions change, but the places all look the same. They tell of a thousand sorrows in a lifetime of rain.” Whether directly or not, there is a bit of a harmonically folky Byrds influence on here too that is surprising given much of the players’ hard-rock pedigree, yet its stunning because their collective chops pull off the rich vocals and chamber-style accompaniment, which is strengthened by Ritchie on acoustic guitar.
“The Vice Rags” closes with a sassy stab at the Little Richard classic “Lucille” that also pays homage to Paul McCartney, as well as Joe Strummer. I imagine this will be a hoot live on Jan. 12 at Rockwood Music Hall. They also will be playing March 24 The Saint with The Wreaths.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.