Dexter Romweber is to Jack White what the first Russian cosmonaut was to Neil Armstrong, minus the space outfits and with the addition of guitars. Romweber was the lead singer, guitarist and brains behind a group known as the Flat Duo Jets, who mixed, blues, rock, country, rockabilly, and garage into a sound all of its own, a sound that the White Stripes have taken to higher and more famous places. Regardless though, White speaks highly of Romweber. “I owned all of his records as a teenager, and was thrilled at the fact that we were able to play together recently on tour,” he says in the press kit. Now some 20 years after the inception of Flat Duo Jets, Romweber is back with another “boogie” bash of songs. What is perhaps the biggest plus to the album is that there are more than a dozen tracks despite the album is just over a half-hour.
“Rockin’ Dead Man” sounds as if Sam Phillips is producing it and Carl Perkins and Buddy Holly are standing behind him grooving along. Romweber’s voice isn’t the clearest or smoothest, but the yelping feeling in his tone brings to mind a more urgent Mike Ness from Social Distortion. The Stray Cats-like rockabilly is what makes it works, especially during the frantic bridge with Travis Smith on saxophone while Andrew Maltbie and Sam Laresh helping to fill out the tune. It’s this boogie feeling that comes through time and time again on this song, making it a great opener despite dropping off less than 100 seconds later. The title track is a slower and blues-based tune that has Dexter howling like a cross between an old blues man from the Delta and Tom Waits. “I’m sad that you strayed away,” he sings before the bass line complements his slow but meticulous picking. The ‘50s style is again quite apparent, resembling Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in some respects. The percussion changes a bit during the homestretch as well.
The doo-wop style of “I’ve Lost My Heart to You” shows Romweber in a very different light, sounding like Elvis Presley if he were contributing to a Roy Orbison tune. The swaying nature to the song is greatly assisted by Romweber’s piano tickling. What is interesting early on is how you might find yourself repeating the tunes before they’re even completed, which is a rare event in the current industry. “I promised someone a long time ago / But I’d wait forever because I love you so,” he sings as the concluding verse then starts. A frantic guitar garage rock-cum-blues tune makes “Turn Around Honey” sounds like a Stripesian mish mash of styles, a tune you can see Jack White drooling over. Another tune it resembles is a rave up of “Six Days on the Road”, taking absolutely no prisoners during the bridge. What misses the mark slightly is “You Broke My Heart” with the quasi Buddy Holly-like stutter on some lines. It has a run-through flavor throughout, which doesn’t quite get up to snuff.
What Romweber takes advantage of is his knowledge of what worked in the ‘50s and ‘60s, taking different aspects of each. The “Tequila”-ish opening to “Nephretite” doesn’t quite live up to the Champs, but the tune is a winner, mixing garage with a pinch of flamenco and a tablespoon of surf guitar. A galloping “Unharmonious” sounds like a suicidal children’s song if performed by the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Light but still rather catchy, Romweber talks about lonesome days and “the end” as if he’s been there far too often. “The 309” conjures up more intensity and a simple but early Stones-ish head-bobbing Chuck Berry cover. George Thorogood can’t help but come to one’s comparison vocabulary here as well. Stupid and silly but still emitting the desired effect. “Outta Sight” is a jugband-ish tub-thumper that shows Romweber’s guitar playing for all its worth. The refrain plays a key role as the bassline keeps it all together. “Nabonga” comes out and slaps you in the face with just enough rocking edge and country to make appendages move in some crazy eclectic fashion.
By the closing tunes, you get the sense that Romweber’s heyday with Flat Duo Jets isn’t his best work. His third album is the charmer—a rollicking look back at what still works nearly half a century after the whole damn thing got going.