I was so thrilled to receive the new release from those hip youngsters, known all over as The Boxmasters. Their debut album was excellent, as was their 2008 Christmas release, but I must admit, Modbilly eclipses even those slabs of wax.
Modbilly once again gives us twice the music for your hard earned dollar. The twin discs, one filled with original Boxmasters compositions, the other featuring the boys’ versions of some of their favorite classic tunes from the past., are just the beginning.
Packaged in a box, like their first album, you not only get two great CDs, but also a groovy two-sided fold out Boxmasters poster, and three “trading cards,” about the size of a beer coaster, with a picture of Bud, J.D. or Mike, with a list of “facts” on the back that are just hilarious. Example: J.D. Andrew’s card says his “turn offs” are “People who say things to me” and “crepe paper.” Bud Thornton names his favorite chick as “Susanne Pleshette and Elaine Joyce.” Mike Butler names his “turn ons” as “Cheese cloth undergarments.” All three youngsters name “The Monkees” as their favorite TV show. Groovy.
Disc one, “Ours,” is full of great two and three minute pop songs, just like in the sixties. “Hollow Walls” is an outstanding track that romps along with an almost Western feel, like it belongs on an old Roy Rogers film, while “Turn it Over” jumps from the stereo with a kind of Byrds meet Tom Petty vibe. I really, really love this one.
And then there’s “Heartbreakin’ Wreck,” “Reasons for Livin,” and “I Don’t Wanna Know,” a beautiful song of denial.
“That’s Why Tammy Has My Car,” is just as funny as it gets. Especially when Bud sings “Well I’m a moron” and the other guys answer “He’s a Moron,” “I’m a dummy.” “He’s a dummy.” Oh, you’ll just have to hear it. A real rockabilly romp. Very sixties sounding music with uniquely Boxmasters lyrics. Sometimes irreverent. Always politically incorrect. But hey, what would you expect from a rock and roll outfit, The Sound of Music?
“Goin’ Home” is a song about what Dylan Thomas called “the dying of the light.” The lyrics tell the story of a man who knows he’s dying, but, like most of us, doesn’t really know what to expect when he gets “home.”
“New Mexico” is yet another good one, a song about a New Mexico lawman returning to the state where he put so many men to death, perhaps to die there himself. It strikes me as another cowboy song. At least I like to think of it that way.
“Two Weeks Notice” is a rockabilly rave up about a guy running a girl off from his home that he says “drove him out of his mind.” He gives her the ultimatum and two weeks to clear out.
“Every King Wears a Crown” offers advice to men everywhere that no matter how low you may get, you are still the king of your own dreams. “You Crossed the Line” finds the central character of the song warning another guy that “it’s all over now,” after the guy sleeps with his wife. It's time to oipen up a can of "whoop ass." The music rocks on this one too. Yep.
“I Never Let You Cry” is a laid back track, just Thornton on vocals and a single drum, and J.D. on guitar. It’s a guy apologizing to his lover for allowing her to hold back the tears and never cry. A very nice track to close out disc one.
Disc two, “Theirs,” may be mislabeled. While these songs were written and recorded by other artists, the recordings on this particular slab of wax are all Boxmasters. Totally.
“A Dime at a Time,” a classic jukebox tune made famous by Del Reeves and also recorded by Norma Jean kicks it off in country western style, before the boys turn in a superb cover of Tom Rush’s sixties classic “Merrimack County,” an absolutely great tune featuring Mike on Dobro, and Brad on red hot mandolin. (Let us not forget, Brad Davis was once the guitar slinger/mandolin picker for one hep cat named Marty Stuart.)
“As Tears Go By,” The Rolling Stones hit, is done big time justice by Bud and ‘em, and another standout track that I just keep playing over and over (one I predict will be released on a 45rpm) is “Joanne,” Michael Nesmith’s only charting single as a solo artist outside the Monkees box. Nesmith is one of our generation’s most brilliant songwriters, and this one is a fine example of not only his writing, but the sheer talent of these Boxmaster kids. A very sixties vibe that I love so much.
The country western returns with an apt cover of Roger Miller’s “Half a Mind,” before the boys delve into “Elenore,” a song made famous by Flo and Eddie’s old band The Turtles. Another winner in my book, fellow babies.
The band covers “The Lord Knows I’m Drinkin’” by Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, “Big Ole Brew” by Mel McDaniel and turn in a stellar version of John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind,” the sixties smash re hit by Glen Campbell.
“Errol Flynn,” written by Amanda McBroom, who also wrote “The Rose” for Bette Midler, is Boxmasterized, and the boys rave it up on an old favorite of mine from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy, written by Kenny Loggins, called “Santa Rosa.” Man I always loved that song.
“The Boxmasters Theme” closes the set with a short tune that is either and opener or a set closer, I am not sure which. Maybe it’s just a subtle reminder of the name of the band you have just been diggin’ on for the past ever how many hours. Yep.
So to sum up. Modbilly, great. Boxmasters, super duper. I can hardly wait to see these lads live again. It’s become my summer tradition. Better than surfing. Better than girl watching on the beach. Wait a minute. Let me back track. Better than surfing. Yeah. That’s the ticket!
-Michael Buffalo Smith