Tejon Street Band, Trash-Grass All-Stars
Colorado-based band Tejon Street Corner Thieves released their latest album Thick As Thieves this May, further exemplifying the group’s quirky charm.
The first track on Thick As Thieves is “Long Gone.” It is an upswing bass walk, with some fine lyrical fiddle sawing. The song presents itself as a bit of a shanty, which unsurprisingly is the band’s general motive. While the banjo is a bit untrained here, it is a quick track to introduce listeners to the cast of the band.
In “Whiskey,” the bass throbs after the acoustic noodling introduction–where the minor fall in the progression is underlined. The band leads up to a ticker-tape parade of an entrance: castanets and a hammered banjo with an acoustic pushing underneath. All of these elements keep the whiskey love song fittingly costumed and somersaulting forward. There are some slow bits in the song too which counter the song’s pickup tempo, warmly uninhibited. The tune, both lyrically and compositionally, seems made for followers of bands like Big D and the Kids Table and their ilk–smashing what some refer to as “outlaw blues” or “trash-grass” into headstrong progressions.
Though they are conceptually different, tunes like “Moonshine Blind,” “Be There” and “Never Meant To Be” all work to draw boundaries around the band: despite smart arrangements, and clear talent, one critique of the album more generally is that it showcases the string players (aside from the fiddler) as they follow the tunes a bit thickly–using strums too simple and picking too rote. For example, in “Moonshine Blind” listeners hear a dancehall fiddle jig which is a bit repetitive but cuts into pretty little guitar and fiddle solos. The harmonies and crowd-shout sections are drastically different aesthetically: one screams practiced, careful ears, while the other sends us to our favorite Muddy Water bar just before closing time.
On the other hand, “Be There” is a bit of a slower take, a bass walk. The band seems to lose a bit of its energy in the undertaking. It is a sentimental take from a band who lives on the vibrating surface of their genre; no matter how creatively they makeover the shanty and jig aesthetic the band still sounds a bit iterative. “Never Meant To Be” picks up with a Mumford and Sons doppelgänger tune–a vibe which is cut by the vocalist’s Lou Reed growl. The finely tuned backup singers have eerie harmony and the strong and emotive singing in the later chorus shows devotion.
“Lay Low” is an interesting track on the album as the band’s inventiveness is forefront. Though it is a characteristic shanty-style tune, the banjo’s simple roll is placed forward in the song, with other instruments taking a rhythmic backseat. The song develops a bit of a catchy groove when the bassist dives into the swing brought up by the lyrics. The chorus itself is a swell of warm melodies. Similarly, “The Road” is a highlight on the album–if only for its juxtaposition of alt-country generic consistency and a vocal fiddle melody.
Where “Demons” is a bit unremarkable, with a driven bass thrum Dave Matthews would be proud of, final tracks on the album like “God Knows” and “Love’s Pilot” show a band that has potential and has certainly dialed in on their particular sound. The final track in particular is a trash-grass anthem, highlighting the fiddler’s chops and the band’s sense of fun.
Tejon Street Corner Thieves’ newest album Thick As Thieves is as much rockabilly as it is country, more thematically iterative than it is risk-taking. Nonetheless is a refreshing deviation from the “Mumford and Sons Branch” of the alt-country family tree, where the band has a quirkiness that may help them bridge the gap between genres like ska, country, and folk.