Frontier Psychiatrist

Gallows Humor: Rose’s Pawn Shop

Posted on: July 29, 2010

Rose's Pawn Shop

Rose’s Pawn Shop combines Angeleno energy with Appalachian sensibilities on their new, self released recording, Dancing on the Gallows. These five young California dudes rock out with traditional bluegrass instrumentation on original tunes that evoke artists as varied as Hank Williams and Green Day. While we usually associate bands coming out of the Whiskey Strip with neon pink Gibson flying ‘V’ guitars and large hair, Paul Givant and company speed off Sunset Boulevard wielding fiddles, mandolins and banjos (and sporting sensible hair cuts).

Rose’s Pawn Shop, Dancing on the Gallows

The crescendo that opens the title track hints at the blending energies and influences that typify the record.  A busy banjo, aggressive fiddle and electric guitar march towards us driven by the drummer Ulf Geist, making liberal use of the tom toms, which are the parts of a drum kit usually eschewed by traditional bluegrass. The figure comes to a head with a descending line reminiscent of the hook in “Devil Went Down to Georgia” but don’t be fooled. “Gallows” features none of the boot stompin’ caricatures of that hit song and instead delivers a sincere account of two friends facing the end together.  Another telling influence in the tune reveals itself through the use of triplet figures that break the verse from the chorus. The four-on-the-floor kick drum provides the thrust for a reeling fiddle which might light up the Celtic part of your brain and have you wondering where you put that Pogues CD you had in college.

Rose’s Pawn Shop, Ball of Flames

“Ball of Flames” best demonstrates how Rose’s performs a shot-gun wedding between Tinsel Town and Churchill Downs. A delicious psycho-billy opener combines electric guitar feedback and a crawling fiddle which launch us into an up tempo rocker that evokes Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”. But unlike that erstwhile urban anthem, “Flames” takes a few twists and turns that indicates a sophisticated arranging style typical of this record.  Stephen Andrews expertly thumps throughout the whole track on upright bass; an instrument firmly rooted in old timey styles whose distinctive pizzicato always leads our ear home to mountain music, regardless of punk rock tempos or squealing electric guitars.

Rose’s Pawn Shop, Strangers

“Strangers” is a torch song anthem that belongs to the tradition of California country typified by Gram Parsons or The Eagles. The spare playing and atmospheric production provide the vehicle for the familiar story of a romantic relationship gone bad. The soaring chorus comes together with close harmony singing and earnestly strummed guitars. You might imagine “Strangers” as a late night feature  on some commercial country radio station if not for the ‘F’ bomb that gets dropped early on. However the expletive is an important indicator of attitude and helps to differentiate Rose’s from the myriad other new country acts that amplify their acousticity.

True to country form much of the lyrical content on this record features drinking, dying, traveling and heartbreak (not necessarily in that order). While these themes are ancient, Rose’s Pawn Shop presents them in fresh way, combining solid country picking with rock n roll attitude. Gallows is only the band’s second release and their Facebook page features fewer than 600 friends. But this strong and honest endeavor suggests that number is bound to increase very soon.

Rose’s Pawn Shop plays a free show tonight, July 29, at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn.

Play that punky bluegrass, boys

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