NICK DERISO: News that jangle-pop favorites the dBs (featuring on-again, off-again New Orleans resident Peter Holsapple) have gotten together to put down some new tracks brought me back to 1991’s “Mavericks,” a thoughtful record that would have sounded perfectly at home on an early 1980s college-rock station.
Holsapple and Chris Stamey — who along with drummer Will Rigby and bassist Gene Holder make up the newly reconstituted dBs — hadn’t recorded since the group broke up around that time, though the duo played informally together over the next decade. Stamey left in 1983, and Holsapple followed a few years later, but they remain close. (Holsapple has famously described them as the “Everly Brothers, without being related.”)
The title, “Mavericks,” provides a lingering chuckle. It was a bit of irony from guys trying to play acoustic guitars during the then-new grunge movement of the day.
The truth is, Holsapple and Stamey instantly fell back into pleasant old playing habits, with ringing riffs and daylight-drenched hooks. We find Holsapple, who has toured as a sideman with Hootie and the Blowfish, exhibiting a reliably sharp eye. Stamey — Holsapple’s McCartney, I guess — was still bright and poppy. Contemplative touches were again added by sometime sideperson Jane Scarpantoni’s cello.
They were a bit older, played a bit quieter, and were certainly more pensive, but in the end, this record was like a screen door slamming back home — at once familiar and comforting.
Of course, it didn’t sell much. The dBs never quite achieved the acclaim of musical soulmates R.E.M., though they were also at the forefront of the early-1980s guitar-band sound from the American Southeast. (Holsapple later toured and recorded with them, as well.) Through it all, though, the dBs were just off the radar — from 1984’s “Like This” album to the early MTV video fave “Amplifier” to a semi-major label release “The Sound of Music” in 1987.
Many of the dBs’ albums are difficult to find, making “Maverick” one of the few widely available opportunities to hear this distinctive band, if only in part.
Later, Holsapple continued to toil in relative obscurity within the dynamic of the Continential Drifters, a defunct New Orleans-based college-rock/power-pop supergroup that included Mark Walton of the Dream Syndicate, Vicki Peterson of the Bangles and Susan Cowsill of the Cowsills.
Maybe this upcoming album will provide a long-awaited platform for revival — if not for the dBs’ left-for-dead career then maybe for its standing in the pop pantheon.
As with “Mavericks,” these new dBs sessions reportedly included a cover tune from the Byrds, a touchstone reference point, as well as “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” from the Motown catalog and Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again.” There were also said to be new Holsapple-Stamey originals, seven in all.