Diamond Rugs is an indie artist collaboration headed by Deer Tick mastermind John McCauley. Sporting more than just a country-esque sound, the band includes guitarist McCauley, Deer Tick bandmate and bassist Robbie Crowell, Black Lips guitarist Ian Saint Pé, Los Lobos keyboardist Steve Berlin, Dead Confederate guitarist Hardy Morris and Six Finger Satellite drummer Bryan Dufresne. Of course, this musician salad bowl is more than just a name game. The band recorded in Nashville, having started out in late 2011 as McCauley’s side project to record a track with some friends and favorites he met during his career. In an unexpected turn of events, Diamond Rugs released a full-length self-titled debut through Partisan Records in 2012 that features a different take on R&B, romance and booze. Backed by producers, Middle Brother’s Adam Landry and Deer Tick’s Justin Collins, the Diamond Rugs recently performed on the Late Show with David Letterman in June 2012.
There's got to be something exciting about one off side projects, a chance to rock out without the pressures and expectations that inevitably come with a long running band. Diamond Rugs, a collaboration between members of Deer Tick, The Black Lips, Los Lobos, Dead Confederate and Six Finger Satellite feels just like that. Go into their history for a couple of sentences. As you might expect from a laid back side project put together over the course of a month not every track on the album is stellar, but when Diamond Rugs hit their stride, it's clear that something special is going on.
“Gimme a Beer” is one of those moments. It teeters happily between garage rock and whiskey swilling country spiked with some extreme energy drink; dirty guitars rubbing shoulders with some of the best genre crossing pedal steel to grace these ears. This is music ideally suited for blasting on dusty pickup trucks, yet it's closest musical fore bearer may be Nirvana. Vocalist/guitarist John McCauley has the effortless, screw-it-swagger of Bleach-era Nirvana, and Cobain's ear for simple, but compelling punk rock melodies. It's got plenty of rock power, as well as the restraint of skilled players, great stuff. With its easy-going strut and partying sax, “Call Girl Blues” is pure Rolling Stones style rock and roll pulled off with the necessary cajones –not surprising considering the rock/punk backgrounds of so many of the members.
This was an album recorded in Nashville, after all, so the requisite country leaning moments are there, and pulled off with skill. “Country Mile” begins with muddy, distortion smeared guitars, before ambling into a beautiful, pained mid section of bouncing country. As McCauely sings “and I'll beam a smile/a country mile” in a mix of twang and warble, he hits that most plaintive country tone.
The Diamond Rugs play simple music for the most part, but maybe that's the secret to how they can sound so raw and exciting without spending the years together that more established bands have under their belts. Well, here's to hoping there's more of this to come.