December 2002

Slobberbone - Slippage
New West 6041
Released: 2002

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Slobberbone is four guys from Denton, Texas who decided to name their band after a chewtoy. You have to be pretty brave or pretty good to give a name like that to your band, and Slobberbone is both. I did a little skipping around the Internet to find out about them, and the term "alternative country" kept popping up. I’ve grown weary of that term, but I have to admit that at first I thought Slobberbone sounded a little like Uncle Tupelo. But as I heard more of the band’s new disc, Slippage, I realized that comparison was too easy -- and not especially accurate.

The third or fourth time I played Slippage, I had just listened to Exile on Main Street and a few seconds into the Leslie guitar intro to "Sister Beams" from Slippage I heard an echo of "Let It Loose" from Exile -- just an echo. I realized then that I could waste a lot of time trying to nail down Slobberbone’s influences. It was pointless to try to pigeonhole them or compare them to anyone else, because I already knew what they are: a terrific rock'n'roll band.

The disc opens with the sound of two overdriven guitars calling to each other from the left and right channels and then sustaining into feedback. When the band kicks in behind vocalist/guitarist Brent Best, the sound is tough and the guitars have bite. Drummer Tony Harper hits the snare squarely and his kickdrum adds real swing to the band’s songs (it should have been mixed higher). It’s bass player Brian Lane, though, who is the pulse of this band. He centers it rhythmically, but he also plays smooth, melodic lines that help keep the band’s wall of guitars sound from getting too ungainly.

Brent Best writes gritty songs that reflect the dark realism of his lyrics. He uses flint-hard imagery to tell the stories of regular people who can’t talk honestly to each other or who fall into bad habits that hurt them and the people they love. Best has a striking talent for using a few words to set a tone and evoke a strong sense of place. He also knows how create a character by choosing the right details -- he observes things the way a short-story writer does. And while he can write lines that are memorable ("You figured loss could be your gain / In some fickle lease that’s paid in shame"), he never resorts to mere word play.

Strong melodies and hooks that stay with you carry these tales forward. Guitarist Jess Barr shadows Best, playing guitar lines that reinforce Best’s melodies without losing the drive the songs require. On this disc, Best combines the speed and aggressiveness of punk with a pop sensibility and a little twang. If I’m hesitant to call it alt-country it’s because I don’t want to assign a term so limiting to music that holds so many sounds and possibilities.

I could have done without the cover of the Bee Gees’ "To Love Somebody." It’s a game attempt, but the song is just too familiar. I also think Slobberbone should add some tonal variety to their guitar sound and give more space to the instruments. Producer Don Smith has given Slippage a dense sound that feels a little compressed. The depth of the songs would benefit from a lighter touch -- too many things seem to be lost in the mix. Despite these reservations, I’ll be enjoying Slippage while waiting with anticipation for Slobberbone’s next disc.