THE MIDWESTERNERS – Ridin’ with Chuck
It’s hard to imagine a more authentically American band than the Midwesterners, or one that blends early rock-and-roll, genuine country influences and honky-tonk so successfully.
Ridin’ with Chuck is the first Midwesterners album to feature new members D. Ernie Connor and Tom McCarty and the smooth factor has increased significantly. John Chimes guests on piano and brings his usual touch of class and southern style, adding an extra dimension that you don’t get at a Midwesterners show, particularly on “Best Years.” Chimes would make an excellent choice as a permanent member of the band.
The rhythm section of Mark Haines and McCarty is tight as nails. The stripped-down simplicity of Haines’ vintage kit is a testament to his versatility as a player and that snare drum is to die for. McCarty is right there in the pocket and in live performance this guy is a blast to watch with his snow-white stand-up bass and his effortless delivery.
The guitar work of Connor, who also plays with the Rousers, and that of Richard Wiegel is seamless and wonderfully understated. When it comes to tasty lead guitar licks, Wiegel is tops. He’s also at the top of his game, bouncing back from a serious heart attack a year ago to produce his best batch of songs yet, though some of them date back a number of years. His phrasing and string-bending abilities are a joy but it’s his sheer unadulterated tone that is so appealing.
Wiegel also writes some pretty clever lyrics, harkening back to good times of Studebakers and low-level mischief. No sad songs here; “Keep the Dance Floor Full,” “If it’s Bad Why Does it Feel So Good,” “Roll with the Punches” and “I’m Your Daddy’s Worst Nightmare” are fun loving and full of trademark quips. Several songs are centered on cars, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if every track referred to a car in some manner. “Rusted Custom Ford,” Studebaker,” Keep Your Motor Oiled” and “Ridin’ with Chuck” define the archetypical American feeling of freedom that comes from being behind the wheel of a cruiser on a summer day with the top down and the radio on and, in this case, tuned to Chuck Berry. There is no doubt that music has been Wiegel’s GPS and moral compass throughout his life.
Most of the songs are short and sweet, clocking in at just over two minutes with the focus on the vocals and Connor’s harmonies. But when the guitar licks fly things really get fun.