Not your run-of-the-mill supergroup, kindred spirits crank up the amps on the solid follow-up to their 2012 debut
Like-minded musicians often naturally gravitate towards one another. This can inevitably lead to the creation of supergroups, a concept that often invokes cringes amongst the music faithful. Sometimes welcomed (Traveling Wilburys, the Postal Service), sometimes dreaded (Chickenfoot, Velvet Revolver), and sometimes chaotic (Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young) these bands certainly almost always end of memorable for one thing or another. If we’re lucky, it’s for the music. When artists team up it becomes easy for egos to clash, visions to bloat, and feelings to get hurt. To do it well, the group usually just needs to relax and focus on the common traits that got them together in the studio in the first place. It’s a balancing act, so to speak, with the end result hopefully being an album that stands up with the members’ respective work.
Diamond Rugs is one such band that appears to have found that magic balance. Made up of Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Robbie Crowell, recently departed Black Lips guitarist Ian St. Pé, Dead Confederate’s Hardy Morris, Six Finger Satellite’s Bryan Dufresne, and Los Lobos saxophonist Steve Berlin, the group gels over their shared desire to simply plug in the amps and let things rip. It sounded great on their 2012 self-titled debut and sounds even better on Cosmetics, this year’s follow-up.
“Cosmetics are products you put on your body to make you feel good,” St. Pé says. “Our music is the same. If you wanna be smart, read a book. If you wanna have a good time, come see the Diamond Rugs.” It seems like a simple thing to say, even a little sophomoric. However, the quote does pretty much perfectly encapsulate the band’s ethos. The album’s eleven tracks aren’t meant to be dissected for lyrical profundity or expected to disseminate any sort of grand statement. Instead, they simply present themselves in a celebratory way; like a comfortable bar band that’s been around playing Friday nights at the old stop for decades.
Brassy horns accentuate the punchy chords of album-opening “Voodoo Doll” before spacey keys enter into the mix with the chorus. A rather ordinary start quickly mounts into something soaring and grand. The next track, “Thunk” follows similarly. A straightforward riff kicks things off and again the soundscape blossoms as the thumping drum beat, bass, extra guitar, keys, and those sweet-sounding horns provide the foundation for the hooky chorus: “I never thought that I’d be your problem / And by the way…”
As opening statements go, it’s quite a solid one. From there things continue to flow nicely, with the bluesy swamp on “Meant to Be” and “Killin’ Time”, the aforementioned Wilbury-esque “Live and Shout It”, and the plainspoken, space cowboy ramble “Blame” serving as particular highlights. The album is sequenced well, too. The songs are ordered appropriately as to how they would go over in a live setting, with the heft of the opening section clearing a bit in the middle before ending with “Motel Room”, a boozy and sprawling little epic full of wordplay and innuendo that somewhat sloppily stretches itself out the way the final number of the night often does. As the instruments wind down, you can almost taste the sweat and booze pouring off the stage as you’re left waiting for the lights to come back up.
Despite the off-the-cuff spirit, the band took the recording process seriously, holing up for a stretch at Nashville’s Playground Sound, the site of their first album’s creation. Here, they followed the same process-recording everything to one-inch, eight-track tape-a choice that not only suggests classic rock authenticity, but also kept the intricacies of all the working pieces together. “When you have a three-piece horn section, guitars, bass, synthesizers, organs, multiple vocals, and you gotta fit it all on eight tracks, it makes you think,” St. Pé aptly describes. A quick listen to any track on the album proves his assessment correct. There isn’t much buried in the mix here and things sound great, both blasting off the car stereo and under the cover of headphones. Rock and roll purists will rejoice over the production efforts.
As seasoned professionals with some pretty hefty day jobs, the guys of Diamond Rugs don’t really need to get together. Fortunately, though, their camaraderie and musical fellowship produces great results. If they continue this schedule of writing, recording, and touring every couple of years, there will be much to appreciate and celebrate.