Whisky & Culture

Rough diamonds

Our music guru showcases one of the bright new talents to break out of America. More perfect whisky music
By Dominic Roskrow
You’ve just got to love a band who start one of their tracks with the lines (and please note the lack of capital letters): I’ve been trying to get people to call me freddy knuckles. people keep calling me right said fred. it’s hard to keep trying when half your friends are dying. it’s hard to hold steady when half your friends are dead.Sure enough when The Hold Steady burst out of America a few months back critics in the know started describing them as the first truly great rock band of the new millennium.The peach above is taken from The Hold Steady’s last album, called The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, and it comes thoroughly recommended.Indeed old dim ears here bought it before Christmas in the mistaken belief it was the most recent one, thrashed it over the festive period and declared it a love affair set for the longest of long terms.So imagine my surprise and delight when I stumbled on the fact that the new album is actually called Boys and Girls in America and it’s just as good.The Hold Steady would be the first to admit that what they're doing isn’t particularly new or ground-breaking. But they have taken a blueprint first laid down by Bruce Springsteen back at the time of Greetings From Astbury Park and Born To Run, and dragged it through the decades calling in on the likes of The Replacements and Paul Westerberg, Johnnie The Fox era Phil Lynott and even Alex Harvey on the way.The funfairs and boardwalks have rusted and rotted, the shouts of defiance of Springsteen’s heroes battling to get out of smalltownsville have been replaced by a generation who have given up. They relieve the boredom of their nowhere lives with petty crime, casual sex, whisky and drugs. Lots of them.Take this from the opening track, Stuck Between Stations: there are nights when I think that sal paradise was right, boys and girls in America have such a sad time together crushing one another with such expectations, dependent, undisciplined, sleeping late Lyrically it doesn’t get any lighter over the album’s 11 tracks. But the music!This is a word heavy Springsteen fest built on a rock base, passionate and loud, angry and gripping. Horns burst through twin guitar assaults, prog rock keyboards add dollops of sweetener. Aggressive on the surface, but swirl it round a bit and there are sophisticated depths to it. Musically this is Talisker 18 years old, lyrically it’s Peat Monster.The tracks are all independent of each other but collectively create a social mosaic of an underclass making the best of what they’ve got. Just as fellow Americans Richmond Fontaine bring Raymond Carver to rock music, so The Hold Steady bring Bukowski to mind.The Hold Steady not make judgements about their subject matter. These are people doing the best with the rubbish hand that has been thrown to them.Rough diamonds in the mud they may be, but there are diamonds nevertheless.It’s a hot and heavy album that lyrically never lets its subject climb out of the inner city slime pit they live in. Even when the mood lifts it is only briefly.hey citrus, hey liquor, I love it when you touch each other. hey whiskey, hey ginger, I come to you with rigid fingers, they acclaim in Citrus with some affection. And then they shoot it all down: lost in fog and faithless fear, i’ve had kisses that make judas seem sincere It’s a tough ride but a thoroughly rewarding one. And this is already a contender for 2007 album of the year.WHAT TO DRINK
Jack Daniel’s: An obvious choice but like The Hold Steady, Jack has a job to do and it does it effectively, unsubtly and brilliantly.Rittenhouse Rye:Nononsense and straight toit. Lots of good among the rough Talisker 18:Style and sophistication beyond the firestorm.