Tough rockers show flair for roots music

By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


October 14 2005

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Grade: B
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a Brit-pop-leaning power trio that nearly broke up last year, returns with its third CD and, lo and behold, it's a surprising, mostly rootsy collection of songs about dancin' with the devil.

Although it doesn't sustain the Americana sounds through its 13 songs and one hidden track, there is enough here to hope that guitarist Peter Hayes, bassist Robert Levon (formerly Turner) Been and drummer Nick Jago give it another try.

The electrifying "Shuffle Your Feet" opens the CD with the chant "time won't save our souls" before acoustic guitars, drums, harmonica and electric guitar are layered on in turn. It's a formula repeated elsewhere, such as on "Ain't No Easy Way," and it recalls acoustic Led Zeppelin and "Exile on Main Street"-era Rolling Stones, as well as Southern rock, soul and gospel.

"Devil's Waitin'" wouldn't have been out of place on the "O Brother" or "Cold Mountain" soundtracks -- the producer of those CDs, T-Bone Burnett, lends a hand on "Howl" -- and its swirl of voices at the end echoes the sacred harp singing of "Mountain."

Emphasis shifts to piano on the love ballad "Promise," and Been's haunting, rocking harmonica returns on the Dylanesque "Complicated Situation."

Brit-pop influences reaching back to the Beatles are not forgotten, however, and those sounds predominate on the second half of the CD. The songs are solid, though they fail to carry through on the rootsy themes introduced earlier on.

Consumer note: This RCA CD is copy-protected, which means it is not guaranteed to play on all equipment. For Windows PC users, the ability to make copies, rip music and transfer tracks to compatible digital-music players is limited. Transfer to an iPod is not possible without an extensive work-around.