Music doesn’t have to be complicated. Far too often I listen to a song on the radio and wonder how much of it was engineered compared to how much was performed. When the electronics overwhelm the instruments and voices, sometimes it’s time to reexamine the music-making process.
Enter the simplicity of Rusty Belle, with a vibe that is difficult to nail down. It’s at times folksy, at times dramatic, and at times it seems they’d feel at home in a saloon somewhere in the late 1800s. But that’s part of their charm.
Comprised of brother and sister Matt (vocals, guitar, fiddle) and Kate Lorenz (vocals, washboard, glockenspiel, drums), Zak Trojano (vocals, guitars, drums), and Jazer Giles (keyboards, guitar, vocals), the group has recorded five albums as a quartet since 2006, with their latest being On a Full Moon Weekend. But again, it’s impossible to pin them down – there’s some country, some honky-tonk, dramatic folk, blues, even a bit of rock. The closest I can come to naming a similar artist is Mark Knopfler, but that only fits a handful of their songs.
What’s consistent throughout the album is the fact that the arrangements, voices, harmonies, and instrumental performances are real. Real people are singing. Real people are playing. And there are real emotions in every note of the eight songs on On a Full Moon Weekend.
One of my favorite tracks is “Rearview Mirror Sunrise” – the very first song on the CD. The subdued, mellow guitar intro strums into some simply gorgeous melodies. But once you listen to the words, you hear the story of two lovers on the road, working the memories from the drive into their relationship. Things as simple as stopping on the side of the road when it starts to snow – “catching the snow flakes one by one on our outstretched laughing tongues, the world feels fresh and new and young, I want to bring it all into my love…”
“Off and On” is another of my favorites and the one that seems to have a Knopfler feel to it. I can’t shake the mental image of this small band playing in the corner of a saloon in the wild west with their twang and caliope/merry-go-round feel. And by the time the steel guitar kicks in, I’m already sold on the picture of cowboys dancing with barmaids on the saloon floor.
When the drums and blues guitar of “Borderline Affair” enter the scene, I can’t figure out how a blues vibe and saloon band are working together, but damn – it works. “Don’t try to tell me nothing no / Don’t cheat me baby I love you so / It’s hard to see the world from this low; so come back to me as flies the crow…” The head barmaid is telling her beau not to treat her wrong or she may be tempted into someone else’s arms…
I’ve never heard anything quite like Rusty Belle. It defies categorization – and yet I enjoyed every note of On a Full Moon Weekend. If you are looking for something different, please give them a listen!
This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.