The Stillmen: All Hopped Up

The Stillmen
All Hopped Up
Star Tone

Crazy, baby. If there is one word to define the Stillmen, it’s “crazy”. Reaching back through the decades to when rock was young and rhythm was king, the Stillmen create an old time sound that is both exciting and nostalgic. They’re not your typical group of wannabe dudes who get all dressed up and slicked down in a Fifties getup to play your favorite state fairs for free beer. These gentlemen may as well be the next incarnation of Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Scotty Moore, Carl Perkins, and all those other great men of rock and roll who blazed a brilliant trail of rock ‘n rhythm so many years ago.

This is the kind of music that completely pulls the rug out from under better-known acts like Brian Setzer. Sure, Setzer can play a mean lick, but I’ve always felt that the whole spectacle of Brian’s act overshadowed his abilities. But here, the Stillmen just rock it out like only four sweaty guys in a late night bar with a drive for dangerous shakin’ could. The kind of music that used to fill scratchy drive-in theatre speakers and provided the soundtrack to many a drag race as two hot rods barreled down an old dirt road. Smell the fumes and feel the ground shake.

The Stillmen feature Steve Walz on guitar and vocals, Steve Merritt on second guitar, Mike Walz on upright bass, and Rick Quisol pounding the skins. Their newest release All Hopped Up is actually comprised of a previous 10 inch LP released on the Goofin’ label with some newly recorded songs added to the stew for an exclusive CD version. There are 12 tracks in all, and each one burns with a genuine fire that can only bring a smile to your face and a step to your shoes. To add even more authenticity to the sound, the group chose to record their songs in mono, and indeed this decision adds a lot of charm to the disc. It really does sound like the old days where a band would have one mic to all play to, while the other guys in the band would shout their backing vocals as loudly as possible. Kind of like the Kingsmen did with “Louie, Louie”.

Walz’ vocals are stuck somewhere between Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins, but that’s all right with me. His phrasings on songs like “Wild Wild Lover” and “Alabama Bound” are just old style enough without turning into kitsch. And “Corn Whiskey Boogie” may as well be one of those great numbers that Brian Setzer wished he could have got his hands on to destroy with some swing elements and a few dozen horns. Here it’s all wrapped up tight in a four-piece combo that just won’t quit. The interaction between Walz and Merritt is indescribable. Let’s just say it thoroughly rocks. My favorite moment of the disc arrives on the track “Miles From Home” that sports a rhythm just like the one heard in Elvis Presley’s great take on “Just Because”. It clicks and thumps happily along as Walz pushes it forward with a bit of hepcat soul. “Stow-a-Way” features some great Buddy Hollyesque vocals and a bit of a “Summertime Blues” story behind it. And “I’m Gonna Be Home” resurrects all of the old fire and brilliance of the King when he was killing them all over at Sun. Simply stated, All Hopped Up is base rock and roll at its best.

So for those of you looking for something a bit different, yet not way out there with a twist of nostalgia but not enough to make you think the band is nothing but a cash in with a cool act, then give the Stillmen a spin. It’s undoubtedly one of the downright coolest discs I’ve heard all year. Here’s hoping the men keep the fire burning for many a release to come. Because this is about as close to the genuine old school as you can get. Classic.