In the early '90s, guitarist and lead singer Dexter Romweber achieved the underground cult status of rockabilly royalty with the Flat Duo Jets, his North Carolina-based guitar/drum two-piece act. The Jets eventually disbanded, but not before leaving a lasting impression on a devoted bunch of younger artists like Jack White, Chan Marshall and the Black Keys.
Romweber returns now, joined by his sister Sara on drums, with his latest duo incarnation, The Dex Romweber Duo. The Ruins of Berlin is the first disc of a multi-album deal with Detroit-based Bloodshot Records. The instrumental opener "Lookout" features guest guitarist Rick Miller (Southern Culture on the Skids) and kicks things off with smoking electric guitars and thunderous surf-rock grooves. Other guest spots on the disc include vocal duets with Cat Power, Neko Case, and Exene Cervenka, and song covers range from the Loretta Lynn rarity "Still Around" to Ella Fitzgeralds "Lovers Gold," and the title track, originally made famous by Marlene Dietrich. Romwebers own vocals are rough and raw, and he exudes an undeniable vampire-esque aura; this, combined with his greaser hairdo, paired down surf-sound and piercing gaze, lead me to conclude that he is none other than the long-lost lovechild of Dracula and Annette Funicello.
Overall, the grittiness fits, and this comeback packs a punch that cannot be ignored. Sara Romweber is more than solid on the drum kit, and backup saxophone solos from Bob Pence beef up the sound on several songs. While the musical form is essentially rockabilly, there is an originality that is not often present with such acts and an authenticity that reveals why so many admirers credit Romweber as an essential influence.
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