Like moonshine, their raw sound grows on you
Dodgy Mountain Men | Stronger Than Death
Published: December 23, 2012
The Dodgy Mountain Men, a quartet of Missoula musicians recently finished a cross-country tour to promote their first CD, to purvey what they call a "home-brewed Montana stompgrass that goes down smooth but packs a bite."
Sort of like moonshine, their raw sound grows on you with its old-time mix of bluegrass and early frontier music. They credit Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead as influences, among others, yet the string band nuances bring out the Americana in their tunes. (Rockacana?)
The group consists of vocalist/guitarist and harp player Eric "Boss" Bostrom; Jed Nussbaum on vocals, mandolin, and guitar; Scott Howard on electric bass; and Clyde C. Netzley IV on tablas, or Indian hand drums. Producer Brandon Zimmer also plays djembe, a larger hand drum, on one number, "Sleep When I'm Dead." The addition of the Indian percussion adds an inventive dimension to the band's rustic sound.
Principal songwriters are Nussbaum and Bostrom, but the whole band adds input to these 12 originals. There's an old country flavor to the first piece, "Down That Road," with its fast-chuckin' guitar chords and gravelly vocals; it features a snappy mando break from Nussbaum.
"Sleep When I'm Dead ('rest when I'm dyin')" opens with Bostrom’s mournful harmonica, segueing into a fast tempo and cool unison singing.
Both Nussbaum and Bostrum possess growly, authentic pipes, and the singers spit out the lyrics to each tune as if it's the last time they'll sing them. That gives the songs an edge that stays true to the album's title. Indeed, many of the compositions dance around the topic of death, fleshing out the theme. The tabla tastefully underpins the tunes, where heavy drums could overpower the mood.
"State of Minor" is a trembly, jumpy instrumental full of spooky chords. There's rockin' counterpoint of guitar and mando, propelling an exotic south-of-the-border sound. "Jackie," a tale of notoriety, revenge and murder, has country-folk stylings and a great squiggly guitar solo with Brian Setzer nuances.
There's almost a Middle-Eastern sound to "Montana Storms," which has Mick Jagger inflections in the vocals as well – a nice touch.
The swampy finger-snapper "Hell Thru a Bullet Hole" might be a favorite. The classic tale of western revenge is steeped in American history, has a cool melody and riffs, and tells a great story of a man tracking down a corrupt sheriff.
The love song, “Written,” is a jazzy concoction; and in the galloping finale, "Ol' Calamity," fires are burning up farmers' crops.
Plenty here to listen to. A lot of the music rushes along at the same frenetic pace, but the storytelling makes it thoughtful, and the lead playing is interesting. Uncluttered production adds to the genuine flavor, too. Visit www.dodgymountainmen.com.
– Mariss McTucker