What is it about a rockabilly album, where you can look at its tracklist before hearing a single note, and know that you've got a rockabilly record on your hands? (I suppose the same goes for, say, a hip-hop record, recognizable with its creatively spelled tracks, but let me work my theory out.) To wit, the rip-roaring latest from Chicago's Riptones, Slant 6, which features tracks like "Buckshot", "Don't Touch My Hair", "Big Timber", and "El Camino". And while tales of badass classic cars and giant slicked-back pompadours will forever be part of rockabilly lore, there's only so much that can be said about them on every rockabilly album ever recorded. Pardon the hyperbole, but the point is made nevertheless.
God bless the Riptones -- guitarist Jeb Bonansigna, bassist Earl Carter, guitarist Michael Krasovech and drummer Perry LaFine -- for finding at least one way around the above limitation that halts any number of rockabilly bands: Slant 6 is entirely instrumental (their previous albums all featured Bonansigna on lead vocals). After all this talk about song titles, instrumental tracks don't render song titles moot, however. "Go Be Do" is as up-and-at-'em as its title suggests; Carter's bass paces the song down the musical interstate while Bonansigna puts the pedal to the metal. Needless to say, Slant 6 is the perfect soundtrack for driving a big rig -- oops, there's another of those pesky rockabilly stereotypes again. But regardless of the image it conjures up, "Go Be Do" is great fun and only hints at Slant 6's joys.
Elements of surf guitar pop up in "Extra Sauce" (also the title of their 1997 Bloodshot Records debut) and "Close Shave". The latter tune, darker than the former, finds Bonansigna's furious fretwork mimicking a giant wave bearing down on an expert surfer -- expert, I'm assuming, because he survives three "close shaves". And, as is the case with many an instrumental tune, the band shouts out the song title a few times between verses. There must be some unwritten rule about title-shouting (the Flat Duo Jets were fans of doing that as well. At the very least, call it a trend of two), because the Riptones do it again on "Nugget". Unlike the rest of Slant 6's tracks, "Nugget" coaxes a bluesy, Southern rock vibe out of Bonansigna's guitar -- he makes like the Allman Brothers Band's Derek Trucks -- and it's joined by Joshua Quinlan's alto sax and John Pecak's B3 organ. On an album dominated by catchy rockabilly, surf, and country ("Buckshot" -- also the title of the band's third album -- is a tip of the cap to Rockabilly godfather Buck Owens), "Nugget" stands out as Slant 6's best track.
It's too bad that a lot of instrumental music -- and perhaps more so the kind of music in which the Riptones excel -- either isn't taken seriously or is relegated to background music at a barbeque. The Riptones may not change those perceptions, but not for lack of trying. Slant 6, honors rockabilly's legacy while expanding upon it.