Dustbowl Revival performs in Durango
Band's latest CD a showcase of its talent for playing various styles well
FARMINGTON – Sometimes, Z. Lupetin says, there’s an “ignorance is bliss” thing when it comes to the music of his band, the Dustbowl Revival, and its habit of mixing various American roots music styles together.
“We play the songs and let the chips fall where they may,” Lupetin said, laughing. “It’s kind of like, ‘Yeah, this sounds like a James Brown song with a mandolin solo.’ ”
And that's no exaggeration. When the veteran Los Angeles band, which returns Thursday, Oct. 8 to Durango, Colo., got its start, it either didn’t know or didn’t care that it would take a certain amount of verve and swagger to corral those disparate music styles and create a cohesive package out of them.
Yet, somehow, the Dustbowl Revival pulls it off, and, even better, manages to make it sound completely unforced in the process. On its most recent disc, 2015’s appropriately titled “With a Lampshade On,” the group starts off with the hard-core newgrass of “Lampshade On” before gliding seamlessly into smoky R&B with “Hey Baby” and “Old Joe Clark,” Cajun fiddle territory on “Cherokee Shuffle,” and finally swing on “Ain’t My Fault” and “Drop in the Bucket.”
Mandolin and fiddle find a comfortable home alongside a spirited horn section, and the gorgeous vocals of Lupetin and Liz Beebe are reminiscent of the best effort of such acts as Southern Culture on the Skids and the B-52s.
While there are a ton of bands out there these days that seem intent on bending genres purely for the sake of bending genres, the Dustbowl Revival -- a hard-working ensemble act that got its start in 2007 – has simply carved out a niche of its own. The only label that the band seems halfway comfortable with – an American roots orchestra – fits better than any other but hardly begins to hint at the oomph the group’s eight members bring every night.
For his part, Lupetin declines to give such weighty matters too much thought.
“If you’re thinking too much about what you’re playing, you’re not playing very well,” he said by phone last week from his home on L.A. as the band enjoyed a 10-day break before heading back on the road. “It’s better to let the spirit move you.”
For many of the members of the Dustbowl Revival, that a-ha moment came several years ago when they caught a series of magical, joint shows between the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the renowned bluegrass outfit the Del McCoury Band.
“It was this beautiful convergence of different folk music styles,” Lupetin said, explaining that it was really the first time he had seen two such accomplished acts of such different genres get together and find common ground.
For the members of the then-fledgling Dustbowl Revival, it was very much a demonstration of what was possible, Lupetin said.
“We had always had this feeling we were alone in the wilderness,” he said.
Lupetin said the experience was augmented by the fact that he got to speak with McCoury later on. Lupetin was surprised when McCoury told him that such artists as Bill Monroe and Hank Williams made a habit of spending their down time in New Orleans to soak up the local music atmosphere of that melting pot city.
“That was the music they liked, even if they didn’t necessarily play it themselves,” Lupetin said, relating what McCoury told him. “So it’s all part of the same tradition.”
The Dustbowl Revival prides itself on being able to surprise people, Lupetin said, and that’s a trick it has gotten very good at. “With a Lampshade On,” recorded mostly live during a pair of gigs at the famed Troubadour in Los Angels and the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, offers a series of well-timed twists and turns, and yet Lupetin said the disc barely begins to scratch the surface of the group’s repertoire, since, unlike most live efforts, it featured songs that the group had not already released.
“We had to cut eight or nine songs we’ve been playing for years,” he said, describing the difficulty of limiting that album to the 14 tunes that ultimately made the cut. In such a situation, he said, you have to accept the fact that, no matter how attached you may be to a particular song, sometimes it just doesn’t work as well in front of a live audience or perhaps the recording wasn’t as good as other songs on the set list.
“It’s sad, and it’s like saying good-bye to an old friend when you realize it’s not going to be a part of any sort of recording,” Lupetin said. “But it’s also got that kind of you-had-to-be-there element to it. I’ve worked in live theater enough to know that’s the charm of a live performance – were you there or not?
“The songs I think that made that album were songs we love and have been playing a lot,” he said. “They also were the ones we thought people wanted to hear the most, so it’s symbolic of what we do.”
But what the band does is constantly changing. Lupetin said the group already has several new songs it is putting through the paces right now.
“There’s a little germ, a seed of our new studio album that is just starting to happen,” he said, explaining the group most likely will go back into the studio in early 2016. “I think we have at least a dozen songs that could go right now if we wanted to.”
Lupetin paused, then talked about how impatient he gets when it comes to showing off the band’s new material – perhaps a form of musical wanderlust that has led the Dustbowl Revival to put out four albums just since 2010.
“It’s sort of like you’re making them sit in the car outside the venue,” he said, laughing. “It’s like, ‘Why can’t we bring them in?’”
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
IF YOU GO
What: The Dustbowl Revival in concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8
Where: The Community Concert Hall on the Fort Lewis College campus in Durango, Colo.
Tickets: $15 and $19 online at durangoconcerts.com, by phone at 970-247-7657 or in person at the ticket office inside the Durango Welcome Center at Eighth Street and Main Avenue in downtown Durango.
For more information: dustbowlrevival.com