The Del-Lords – Elvis Club (2013)

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Always out of their time, the Del-Lords made a scruffy early-1980s debut in the age of synthesized MTV flashes in the pan. They return now with a suitably old-fashioned but similarly ageless amalgam of heartfelt lyrics and crunchy licks.

Back are the original trio of vocalist/guitarist Scott Kempner, vocalist/guitarist Eric Ambel (who co-founded the Blackhearts, Joan Jett’s band) and drummer Frank Funaro, with Michael “Duke” DuClos replacing founding bassist Manny Caiati. Back too is Kempner’s riff-tastic attitude, the emotional rawness and the sharp humor (“Elvis Club,” after all, was a passing prostitute’s insult to the band back in their stacked-up pompadour days) — all hallmarks of the Del-Lords’ best Reagan-era sides.

If anything, though, these guys have broadened their scope. Themes run from hard-won reminiscence (“Princess,” “Letter [Unmailed]”) to could-give-a-shit retorts (“Damaged”); from stamping blues-soaked turns (“Me and the Lord Blues,” “Make a Mistake,” co-written by Kempner and Ambel) to chest-blooming Americana (“Flying,” a cover of Neil Young’s “Silverlake”); from black-night seriousness (“All of My Life,” “Southern Pacific”) to winkingly dark humor (“When the Drugs Kick In,” “Chicks, Man”).

In the interim since 1990’s finale Lovers Who Wander, Kempner has collaborated with Dion (who co-wrote the nicked-up love song “Everyday” from this set); Ambel has sat in with Steve Earle; and Funaro worked with Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. The seeds of this reunion seemed to begin with a short-lived musical collaboration between Kempner, Dion and Funaro. (DuClos and Funaro had also worked together in Cracker.) Later, the original Del-Lords were approached about playing a few dates (for which they occasionally billed themselves anonymously as “Elvis Club”), and that in turn led to sessions focusing on new music — though Caiati, who now practices family law, was unable to continue any further.

The resulting songs, produced for the first time by Ambel, reflect a hearty sense of reminiscence, in the very best sense of the word. That is to say Elvis Club — due May 14 on GB Records via RED Distribution — is a throwback, but not trapped in nostalgia. Somehow, in a stunningly similar age of singing-show flashes in the pan, the Del-Lords are back — sounding like nothing so much as themselves. God bless ’em.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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