The spirit of the West is alive and well in the music of Los Angeles-based roots music collective The Dustbowl Revival. This rambling, rolling spirit is the same spark that lit a fire under the past two centuries of Westward migration in America. It comes from a need for wide-open vistas, rollicking street parties, laidback lifestyles, and communities that you build yourself. For the folks in The Dustbowl Revival, West Coast living suits them just fine. Their high-spirited blend of old school bluegrass, gospel, jug-band, swamp blues, piercing brass blasts, and the hot swing of the 1930’s has made them one of the hottest roots music bands in LA and garnered them praise from the likes of tastemaker radio station KCRW, the Los Angeles Times, and alt-paper the LA Weekly! That’s what happens when you owe your allegiance to old-school inspirations like Louis Armstrong’s Hot Sevens, Fats Waller’s barrelhouse vibe, Bessie Smith’s ass-kicking backroom blues, and New Orleans brass bands. Growing steadily from a small string band playing up and down the west coast (hundreds of shows in the last two years), The Dustbowl Revival has blossomed into a traveling collective featuring instrumentation that includes fiddle, mandolin, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, banjo, accordion, tuba, pedal steel, drums, guitars, a bass made from a canoe oar, harmonica and plenty of washboard and kazoo for good luck. This ain’t no fake-mustached hipster revivalism here, The Dustbowl Revival are the real deal, shouting and hollering the nearly derailed, buzz-saw crazed music of the American South that first inspired them.
The Dustbowl Revival’s new album, Carry Me Back Home, is a full-on assault on the idea that folk music should be in any way restrained or boring. They barrel through old-school songs like the spiritual “Swing Low” or the old stringband number “New River Train,” bringing a kind of raucous energy born from all-night parties and impromptu street parades. The biblical wailer “John the Revelator” gets a gin-soaked barroom reimagining here, with ceiling-scraping clarinet solos, and a creepy chorus line that would have done Son House proud. And the original songs rock just as hard as the traditional songs. “Riverboat Queen” blends the 1920s-influenced blues vocals of Caitlyn Doyle together with a Tom Waits cabaret feel that taps equally into the world of Balkan brass and accordions. “Josephine” veers into doo-wop, but with a decidedly cracked modern approach. “Soldiers Joy” may be an age-old song about the horrors of the Civil War, but lead singer and songwriter Zach Lupetin gives the song new words and a new feel to reflect the reality of modern warfare. It’s part of a pattern that unites The Dustbowl Revival’s many different influences: the old music traditions that inspire them are evoked not for some kind of vintage aesthetic, but because The Dustbowl Revival honestly believe that these old songs and sounds have a lot to say today. You can find the same burning energy that made the old recordings so electric in the Los Angeles city street music of The Dustbowl Revival.