[13 December 2006]
Hearing a good, well-recorded debut release from an unsigned band always makes me wonder at the volume of such similar acts that must exist across the globe. Probably a great many of them play within genres that either aren’t highly marketable or are flooded with other artists who have the right haircut and are more aggressively managed. Meanwhile, the talented group of musicians and songwriters who comprise Los Angeles quintet Rose’s Pawn Shop are driving their own van under the radar. These 20-something guys actually have the right look; they’re just playing the wrong instruments. Sartorially, they suggest urban indie rock; instrumentally, however, the group are decidedly more rural. Acoustic guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel, and upright bass combine with the standard rock band trinity of drums and electric bass and guitar for a new take on the old alt-country idea of channeling roots music through the grittier tones of rock and roll. On The Arsonist, Rose’s Pawn Shop’s solid debut album, the stylistic marriage favors the roots over the rock, but the oomph of the latter certainly keeps the former from taking over. As with a lot of unsigned bands, lead singer Paul Givant is the weak link. He’s far from a poor vocalist, but his talents at the microphone are not equal to his abilities as a songwriter or to the mighty fine chops exhibited by his mates. Fiddler Sebastian St. John often steals the show. Still, the material is quite good, as Rose’s Pawn Shop successfully push a bluegrass/old-timey sound onto the bar band stage with the quite fine The Arsonist.