The Starline Rhythm Boys, Masquerade For Heartache | Album Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The Starline Rhythm Boys, Masquerade For Heartache 

Album Review

Published October 7, 2009 at 7:27 a.m.


(Cow Island Records, CD)

Dust off those shitkickers, Burlington. Your blue-collar heroes ride again. Rooted in rockabilly, the Starline Rhythm Boys have been shaking honky-tonks for a decade, evoking an era of checkerboard floors and poodle skirts. Their latest, Masquerade For Heartache, finds the trio plugged into Charlie O’s — that Capital City citadel of sin — where guitarists Al Lemery and Danny Coane lead a jukebox jubilee. All that’s missing is the chicken wire, as the Boys resurrect salty anthems (“Red’s Place”) and 10-gallon covers (“Trucker from Tennessee”) to rowdy effect.

Anchored by Billy Bratcher’s strolling bass, Heartache is a vintage buffet. Western boogie? Check. Hillbilly blues? Yep, it’s all here. And if Coane’s lyrical twang sounds just a bit south of his native Montpelier, blame it on the Narragansett — beer sweetens the masquerade.

The truth of it is, red hot or relaxed, the dukes of drawl bleed country music. They harmonize Jim Foley’s lonesome “Goodbye Train” and flame-broiled “Workin’ Man Blues,” a Merle Haggard classic. “I drink my beer at Charlie-O’s!,” Coane shouts to audience cheers. It’s hard to resist such Green Mountain charm, especially when wry bar ballads — like “I’m Fed Up Drinking Here” — sound more Nashville than Nectar’s.

Even originals feel like radio hits. “Jive After Five” is a swinging “Happy Days”-esque romp that’s as satisfying as a cherry cola. Dobro master Kevin Maul lends his expressive steel guitar, but it’s Lemery’s seasoned Telecaster that burns. Imagine America’s sock-hop soundtrack channeled through Junior Brown; it’s the dawn of rock ’n’ roll!

These Daddy-Os know how to play a room and seldom stray from the beat. Indeed, without a drummer in the mix, the Boys defy convention, slapping bass lines and hustling along with impeccable rhythm. It’s so percussive, you’d never know the difference.

“Ubangi Stomp” is a fat slice of rockabilly that draws howls as Lemery zings through solos. This is hard-driving “Hee-Haw” that’ll put a jump in your boots faster than a rattlesnake. Not bad for three guys in wingtips.

Fueled by easy cowboy humor and veteran chops, Heartache is a live-session locomotive. It’s also a brisk listen at 10 tracks — perhaps they should have called it the Starline Express. As jug bands crash the farmers market and city folk swoon over the latest local flavor, Vermont’s boogie-woogie kings seem as relevant as ever. So trade up that martini, Slick. You’ll be banging beers on the table in no time.

Want to hear for yourself?

Starline Rhythm Boys release Masquerade For Heartache at Charlie O’s this Saturday, October 10.

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Jarrett Berman


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