David Rhodes Brown's Warsaw Falcons and Nick Dellaposta's To No End could not possibly be any further from each other on the musical continuum.
The Falcons, recently reborn with the classic lineup of Brown on guitar/vocals, the thunderous John Schmidt on bass and the irrepressible Doug Waggoner on drums, are Rockabilly personified, heavy on the Rock and hypercaffeinated to the point of heart palpitations.
At the other end of the spectrum, Dellaposta's To No End is a Prog-tinted Blues unit with a propensity for lilting atmospherics and visceral Pop/Hard Rock anthemics.
Oddly enough, both bands are touting new releases, and each one is, in different ways, associated with a legendary entertainment figure. The Warsaw Falcons' new EP, Warsaw Falcons Live with Bobby Keys, features the work of the saxophonist sharing the title, one of Rock's most travelled and compelling sidemen who boasted near-membership with The Rolling Stones and sessions with Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Carly Simon and three of the four Beatles, among many others.
To No End's new video for the track "Twisted Knives" from its third album, Remora, features the on-screen talents of Michael Parks, one of Hollywood's most versatile and durable actors whose television credits include Then Came Bronson in the late '60s and Twin Peaks in the '90s, and who has since become part of Quentin Tarentino's ensemble of reliable players.
The Warsaw Falcons' latest archive release is a five-song excerpt from a live recording done at Top Cat's in Clifton in the very early '90s. Keys, already a fixture in the industry (his iconic blowing was all over the Stones' Sticky Fingers, one of Rock's acknowledged masterworks), had played with Brown in Nashville and had become a semi-official member of the Falcons, eventually guesting on their 2003 album Right It on the Rock Wall.
At the time of the Top Cat's gig, Brown had just returned to Cincinnati to care for aging mother, and had reassembled the Falcons for occasional in-town performances. Bassist John Schmidt reclaimed his spot with the band, while guitarist George Cunningham and drummer Maxwell Schauf rounded out the quartet.
For the Top Cat's recording, the Falcons blew through a jumped-up set of band faves with Keys, visiting from Nashville to lend his towering sax fills. Although there was a good deal more material delivered at the Top Cat's set, the five tracks on the EP represent the songs where Keys was most directly and completely spotlighted. And Live with Bobby Keys might well stand as the most incendiary and pulse pounding 22-and-a-half minutes released this year.
The release starts with the rafter-rattling thrash of "Jello Sal," a five-minute Rockabilly workout featuring Brown's distinctive vocal rasp and his and Cunningham's slinky yet muscular guitar gyrations, grounded by Schmidt's bedrock solid bass and Schauf's technicolor timekeeping. On the EP’s second track, "Sometimes," Keys intros the song by thanking the Falcons for inviting him to the gig and pledging his admiration for Cincinnati and its desire to Rock and Roll.
"That's what we do," Keys declares in his authentic Texas accent. "Rock and roll!"
What follows is the Falcons' version of a ballad, a slow-cooking slab of meaty, bluesy Rock that gives way to its primal impulses and howls with blood-boiling intensity, even as the band maintains an almost laconic pace. Brown and the Falcons mix a jaunty Blues stroll with an effervescent Chuck Berry bounce on "You Can't Do That to Me," switching to spy-theme noir for the insistently smoky and sultry "Two Cigarettes in the Dark" and finishing with a pulsating version of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels' classic cover of the Righteous Brothers' "Little Latin Lupe Lu," with Brown doing his best hip-twitching, lip-hitching impression of Elvis while the band kicks up its heels and swings with deliberate abandon.
Through it all, Keys — who passed away last year at age 70 — does what he always did best; find the emotional heart of the songs and then play the living hell out of them. Keys had the intuitive gift to know when to serve as a brilliant supporting accompanist or elevate his position to an equal partnership in the arrangement, as evidenced by his call and response lick-trading on "Jello Sal." Brown says there may be more recordings of Keys in the Falcons' extensive and as-yet largely unplumbed archive. Based on the results of Live with Bobby Keys, which was officially be released at a Thanksgiving Eve extravaganza at the Southgate House Revival, we can only hope there's a lot more.
Meanwhile, To No End's new release, Remora, the band's third album since forming in 2012, is not only musically dichotomous from the Falcons' EP, it's quantitatively different as well, with an additional 11 tracks over two discs. But, as noted, the one area where the two bands intersect is in their use of a celebrity guest to enhance their presentation.
With TNE, it's the presence of famed actor Michael Parks in the band's video for "Twisted Knives." TNE frontman Nick Dellaposta secured Parks' services for the video through Dellaposta's lifelong friend Josh Roush, whose journey is the subject of "Twisted Knives," perhaps the most personal and deliberately direct song he's ever written.
A decade ago, Roush departed Ohio for Los Angeles, where he has worked in the film industry in various capacities, which led to a position last year on the set of director Kevin Smith's horror film Tusk. During production, Roush met and became friends with Parks, who had a role in Tusk. When Dellaposta invited Roush to partner up to produce the "Twisted Knives" video (the two had worked together on TNE's first video, "Somethin' Wrong with You"), the pair decided to ask Parks if he would be interested in appearing the video, which is largely made up of eerie atmospheric footage that Roush has shot himself over the years.
As for the rest of Remora, Dellaposta takes To No End further down the similar path he and the band explored on last year's excellent Peril & Paracosm, which blended the Kenny Wayne Shepherd-meets-Warren Haynes
Blues direction of the band’s debut with a blistering ’70s Hard Rock energy. In addition, Dellaposta has divided Remora into a pair of 30-plus-minute sides that are stylistically distinct. The harder Side A is subtitled “The Underworld,” while the gentler and more contemplative Side B is themed “The Great Unknown.”
“The Underworld” songs clearly follow Peril & Paracosm's general blueprint, with Dellaposta and guitarist Grant Evans soaring and scorching with the intensity and focus of '70s guitar heroes like UFO's Michael Schenker and Budgie's Tony Bourge, polished to a contemporary but never overproduced shimmer. The opener and ostensible title track, "The Afterlife II (The Underworld)," is a perfect example of Dellaposta's modern Blues/Hard Rock translation, a riff-laden celebration of the forms painted with a new brush. The guitars careen and howl while the rhythm section of bassist Eli Booth and drummer David Nester provide a sturdy but flexible foundation for the song's shifty mood swing between jaunty minor key melodicism and darkly menacing wordplay.
Elsewhere, "Shatter" starts out with the reflective quiet of an O.A.R./Red Wanting Blue ballad but becomes more forceful and expansive as the song unfolds. "Everybody Talks" offers an indiosyncratic New Wave clockwork guitar motif that displays an interesting new songwriting wrinkle for TNE, while "Like Hell" and "Play That Card" show that Dellaposta's heart will never stray too far away from his KWS/Gov't Mule roots — even if they come out in fascinatingly different ways.
Remora's second "side," “The Great Unknown,” dials down the volume but not the songwriting intensity. Two songs from “The Underworld,” "Twisted Knives" and "Trash Day," are reprised on the second disc, with "Twisted Knives II" presented in an almost Folk/Americana light. "Trash Day" is similarly counterpointed between the pummeling Zeppelinesque boogie of “The Underworld” version and the lilting yet still powerful take of "Trash Day II.” And for sheer beauty, look no further than the acoustic heart-tug of "Hinterland Empire," a gorgeous evocation of The Beatles' classic "Blackbird."
While Remora's 16 songs would have fit comfortably onto a single CD, Dellaposta was clearly more interested in thematic continuity than production costs. Rather than interspersing Remora's more sedate songs with its amped-up fist-pumping anthems, Dellaposta and To No End show two different sides of themselves to suit your listening moods, further proof of his thoughtful creativity and amazing talent.
Warsaw Falcons’ Warsaw Falcons Live with Bobby Keys is currently only available at live shows (look for copies in brick-and-mortar, local-friendly record shops soon). Click here and here for show updates and more.