Diesel Island’s Eponymous Debut Album Reviewed
I was living in the United States in the fall of 2016 and I travelled from Fort Wort to St. Louis, not an insignificant distance, to see Diesel Island, the area’s most beloved outlaw country cover band. Four sets were performed that evening in Stovall’s Grove, a country music hall where the locals have danced and been entertained since 1935. The setlist included songs popularized by John Prine, Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, John Anderson, Gram Parsons, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Grateful Dead even made a late evening appearance. Originally, Diesel Island was somewhat of an offshoot of the Bottle Rockets, but through the years has evolved to be Bottle Rockets frontman Brian Henneman along with Kip Loui, Richard Tralles, Carl Pandolfi, and Spencer Marquart.
Diesel Island’s eponymous debut album is a set of original material, written by Loui, Pandolfi, and Tralles. Brian Henneman takes no lead vocals on this project but makes his presence known with his typical all substance, no excess guitar work. Diesel Island has neither tried to compete with the classic country covers they love, nor have they gone for a modern sound on this record. These are musicians with extensive music collections and this album works as a salute to their influences. First and foremost, this is a genuinely fun record and 2017 is a year when a few laughs and smiles are desperately needed. Even with the retro sounds, Diesel Island is too smart to fall into the traps of kitsch or self-serving irony. Ok, let’s get to the goodies.
“Shed A Little Light” is an ace darkest before the dawn opener, merging late era Byrds/with early 1970’s Eagles into a smooth country groove. “My Baby Left Me on a Train” may have a theme of romantic regret, but it’s a 1960’s pop take on country music, reminiscent of The Monkees. Often, the lyrics on this record remind me of the wry social commentary of Ray Davies and the band even breaks out a Broadway meets Nashville number on “Pay My Bills,” where the boys “ooh” in the background while Kip Loui dreams of a wealthy patron. “I’m Going Away” is another standout with its hopeless, solitary man lyrics offset by the Bakersfield guitar and the more bounce to the ounce rhythm section.
Elsewhere, you get Neil Young with increased beats per minute on “Far Away,” the Chuck Berry boogie woogie of “When I Write My Number One,” and the Old West cowpoke number “Saddle and Gun.” The record does lose a bit of steam at the end with “Gonna Be A Long Night,” a lyric about the inescapable bad gigs for a bar band, injecting too much modern downer into the party. Still, that’s a minor quibble. On their debut release, Diesel Island has proven that they have a lot of talent lurking underneath the covers.