[27 February 2014]
Guitar rock fans who parted ways with one-time would-be saviors Kings of Leon after that band lost the plot in a morass of drugs and “Sex on Fire” were no doubt heartened when they heard Baltimore-by-way-of-Nashville quartet J. Roddy Walston and the Business. A Southern-accented (and occasionally mush-mouthed), piano-pounding wild man lead singer raising holy hell over greasy barroom riffs is everything great rock ‘n’ roll should be.
2007’s Hail Mega Boys and 2010’s self-titled offering both still hold up to repeated listens and serve as fine kindling for the band’s incendiary live shows (after serving tours with the like-minded Shooter Jennings and Lucero, the band is headlining this fall—catch ‘em if they come to your town). All-important Album Number Three is here, titled Essential Tremors—named after a nervous-system disorder frontman Walston suffers from—and it proves J. Roddy Walston and the Business remain one of rock’s best unheralded secrets, but hopefully for not much longer.
The band—Walston (piano, guitar), Zach Westphal (bass), Billy C. Gordon (guitar), Steve Colmus (drums)—is kind enough to offer new fans a brief overview of their M.O. with the opening one-two punch of “Heavy Bells” and “Marigold”, all chunky riffs and barely contained yowling on the former and rollicking barrelhouse piano on the latter. From there, the band’s off and running, from the strutting, T. Rex-y “Black Light” and “Same Days” to “Sweat Shock”, a sideways rewrite of “Immigrant Song” (!), and the R&B burner of a closer, “Midnight Cry”. While most of Essential Tremors would fit nicely on their previous records (after all, why fix what ain’t broke?), two mid-album ballads show remarkable growth for this band: “Nobody Knows” (“...we’re alone”) is an existential lament, backed by a string section and anchored by Walston’s haunting falsetto. Jim James, you’ve just been put on notice. While Walston has sung about families before—notably on the self-titled album’s “Brave Man’s Death”—he really strikes a nerve on the quiet epistle “Boys Can Never Tell”: “I’m gonna love you son, even if you love no one” is bighearted, but not half as devastating as “I only had you to make your mother stay / when you came she left all the same”. Moving stuff.
Conventional wisdom holds that rock and roll will never die. It’s the fist-pumping, ass-shaking, lighter-raising efforts of bands like J. Roddy Walston and the Business that ensure that axiom remains true.