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Grayson Capps & the Stumpknockers

Rott 'N' Roll

(Hyena; US: 9 Sep 2008; UK: Available as import)

“Rott ‘N’ Roll” is a term concocted by Grayson Capps’s fans to describe his mix of southern rock snarl, hard-charging blues, and introspective balladry. It certainly works as a title for this, Capps’s fourth album, which throws all of his styles against the wall to see what sticks. Despite that anything-goes quality—or perhaps because of it—Rott ‘N’ Roll sounds fluid and relaxed. Recorded at Capps’s home studio, it’s perhaps the closest he’s come to capturing the feel of his live show.


Capps starts off slow, almost as if the record is warming itself up. With a relaxed tone, Capps issues a statement of purpose by contrasting his world travels with his roots in “Back to the Country”, admires the natural beauty around him in “Arrowhead”, and leads a frontporch shoutout to “Gran Maw Maw”. Not content to stay in one place, though, the album’s just as full of aching blues (the stately “Psychic Channel Blues”, the countrified “Big Black Buzzard”), flat-out rock (the hard-charging “Sock Monkey” and the raucous “Big Ole Woman”), and some patented Capps spookiness (“The Waltz”, with its increasingly manic rhythm, sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a Southern Gothic tale directed by Tim Burton).


Through it all, his band, the Stumpknockers (Tommy MacLuckie on lead guitar, Josh Kerin on bass, and John Milham on drums), flex plenty of muscle. Reportedly, the whole crew pretty much worked days and partied nights at Capps’s farmhouse, and the relaxed sense of camaraderie certainly comes through. Equally adept at chicken-pickin’ raveups as they are at backing Capps on his more delicate moments, the band goes out with a bang on the nearly six-minute-long instrumental “Bacon”.


Lyrically, Capps mixes the plainspoken and straightforward (“I’m going back to the country ‘cause country’s what I am”) with the literary (“He looks like old Boo Radley / He’s pale and his veins are blue / Now he looks like one of them Hadleys / After they’ve been drunk a month or two”). “Guitar” might be his most unguarded moment put to tape, while “The Fear Fruit Bearing Tree” is an ominous spoken-word piece.


It all makes for a pretty complete picture of Capps, so it’s very satisfying in that way. Each of the styles presented here is marked by at least one highlight that makes you wonder what it would sound like if he really plumbed the depths of that particular sound and went for more thematic consistency on an album. “Big Ole Woman”, with its lively appreciation for flesh, is a lot of fun, but it’s a little jarring placed next to the sensitivity that permeates “Guitar”. But that’s what you get with Capps; he lays it out there and lets you sort it out. And any wishes about what his records could be probably vary from listener to listener, as we hear a songwriter who continues to realize his potential.

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Andrew Gilstrap is a freelance writer living in South Carolina, where he's able to endure the few weeks each year that it's actually freezing (swearing a vow that if he ever moves, it'll be even farther south). Aging into a fine curmudgeon whose idea of heaven is 40 tree-covered acres away from the world, he increasingly wishes he were part of a pair of twins, just so he could try being the kinda evil one on for size. Musically, he's always scouring records for that one moment that makes him feel like he's never heard music before, but he long ago realized he needs to keep his copies of John Prine, Crowded House, the Replacements, Kate Bush, and Tom Waits within easy reach.


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