EARL FOSS’S BROWN DERBY – This Drinkin’ Life
Like Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to appear, the boys in Earl Foss’s Brown Derby are trying to summon the spirit of George Jones by playing the most sincere old-time country music they can. Of course, Jones isn’t dead, but that doesn’t mean they can’t flatter him through imitation. Starting with the title track, they have just about every quintessential element of country music covered on their album This Drinkin’ Life. There’s drinkin’, 18-wheelers, plenty of pedal steel, and even a good old country-style duet (“Always and Forever”), in which guest vocalist Kristin Kehl plays Tammy Wynette to John Kunert’s Jones. In addition to old country AM radio, they claim to also be influenced by the last twenty years of indie rock, but apart from “Say What You Mean,” which plays like a Jayhawks update of a Flying Burrito Brothers song, those inspirations are difficult to hear.
The title track digs deepest into the country mythology. It’s a tear-in-my-beer weeper: “Drinkin’ up and livin’ hard / Stayin’ out till closing time / It’s hard to hold on / I barely hold on in this drinkin’ life.” But he’s only here in this bar because he doesn’t know where else to go, and there’s no one to go home to. At times Kunert takes his role just a little too seriously, and the affected twang that creeps into his voice, especially on this track, can be distracting. The opening track “Silver Eagle” is a song about the stereotypical lonely trucker, passing time counting highway markers as he rolls through the night. A whiskey-soaked tune in the spirit of Waylon Jennings’s drinking-to-forget classic “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Barstool” veers dangerously close to eliciting cries of blasphemy as Kunert claims, “ I’m taking communion on a barstool / It’s the only church I know / When you left me I attended more frequently / Now when I take the blood of Christ I drink alone.” Samuel Tokheim’s pedal steel, a key ingredient in many of the songs, makes it especially mournful.
While EFBD’s name may sound sophisticated, Kunert confesses it’s anything but. The Brown Derby is the name of a gentlemen’s club in his old stomping ground of Austin, MN. And Earl Foss? Well, that’s just the name he read on the back of a semi. Somehow that makes it just a little more country. Rekindling the outlaw spirit isn’t exactly a new idea; artists like BR549 and the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash have gone before them. But EFBD stay truer to the past, and in the course of these eight tracks they have forged a respectful homage.