Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Basics - Bitter/Sweet (2003)

Doug Cowen has dropped the names of both Tom Petty and The Beatles when describing the music of his band, The Basics, who hail from South Bend, Indiana, but their name should give you a very big clue about the style of rock and roll they play. To my ears The Basics debut CD, Bitter/Sweet doesn't sound at all like The Beatles but they do possess Lennon and McCartney's ability to write catchy melodic pop hooks that draw you immediately into their music. The band's guitar oriented arrangements make them sound like a very accomplished 60s garage rock band. This is meant as a huge compliment!

The trio features Cowen, who composes most of the music, on vocals. He also plays lead guitar on most tracks along with some harmonica and keyboards. Bassist Charley Neises writes most of the lyrics and helps out with the music. Ben Hahaj provides a solid backbeat on drums and percussion. Occasional studio musicians sit in to augment a few of the tracks but the three band mates have no trouble playing winning rock and roll all on their own.

The Basics reel you in right away with the first track "In a Crowded Room." The song's cross-generational appeal was immediately apparent because both kids in their late teens, and adults old enough to remember actually seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, were taken in with its catchy tune and arrangement. "Crowded Room" could have easily gone Top Ten in 1966. The fun continues with the harder rocking "Bittersweet Road." "Does The Bottle Burn?" with great lyrics by Cowen and Neises, symbolically uses an empty liquor bottle to represent a woman who just ended a romance with a now lonely and broken-hearted protagonist. The guitar jam free-for-all that takes the track home is a highlight of the disc.

Less edgy tunes such as the ballad "What If and What Is" and "Every Day Rain" with its slight psychedelic feel show off the band's diversity without betraying their basic nature. They fit right in with the harder edged songs.

Modern commercial radio seldom responds to new bands playing 60s and 70s style roots rock these days. This may severely limit their audience and makes The Basics musical mavericks, reactionaries bucking the system. Their promotional material advertises the fact there is no cursing anywhere on the disc, which all by itself is an anomaly in modern popular music. Isn't it a shame a band actually has to advertise that fact?

If you are looking for great, new, straight ahead, clean rock and roll, The Basics are for you.

You can order Bitter/Sweet through Amazon.

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