The Can Kickers- Mountain Dudes

By Joshua Mamis
New Haven Advocate 09/04/2003

The third volume of the New London-based "folk as fuck" Appalachian punk & roll Dead Music recordings is the cleanest, brightest reproduction of the band's sound yet (even in a rough, pre-release mix). The Kickers continue to kick more than cans, though as the trio--Daniel Spurr on banjo, Daniel Thompson on fiddle and mouth organ, Douglas Schaefer "pound[ing] the shit out of something, such as a washboard or drum set"--get more accomplished, the arrangements have gotten tighter. The playing, always energetic and true to the D.I.Y. backporch roots, is more confident and, frankly, more professional. Thankfully, that doesn't mean any less freewheeling. These guys still attack their instruments like they're in a time warp, frailing and reeling with the abandon of garage rock playing music straight out of Bristol, Virginia circa 1920. The guys in the Kickers are more in tune to the live experience, and the most they can hope for on disc is to recreate the drive and spark of the sounds they have generated in the indie basements they've brawled through. In that, this disc is clearly recorded live and with little studio trickery. What you hear is what you get, and what you get is more contemporized renditions of old-timey standards. The disc can-kicks off with "Froggy Went a-Courtin'," rolls through "Cripple Creek," "Better Things For You" (country gospel from the Memphis Sanctified Singers' version on the Harry Smith Anthology of Folk Music, from which much of the Kickers' catalogue comes from) "Sally Goddin'," "Cotton-Eyed Joe," slows for some blues, such as "East Coast Blues," and rocks through fiddle tunes like "Shenadoah X." Listen carefully, too, and you'll hear new lyrics on about half the tunes. The New London-based Can Kickers are part of a quirky little national roots music revival of young rock & rollers discovering that stripping down to acoustic instruments and old songs doesn't mean slowing down to a crawl and emulating the bald-heads and gray-hairs in A Mighty Wind. The dirty little secret of what we recall as the folk music boom of the '60s is that bands like the Kingston Trio sanitized and prettified some of the great source material in American music history. Old-timey adherents like proto-acousti-punkers The Holy Modal Rounders are largely forgotten. The Can Kickers are their musical progeny, and getting better all the time.