THE DIRTY TRUCKERS – The Tisbury Joneser

The release this album in 2022 marks the end of a decade long silence from Boston rockers The Dirty Truckers. It’s not that the band members have been absent in that time, of course: frontman Tom Baker has released enjoyable works, both solo and with his other band, The Snakes (also featuring the Truckers’ John Brookhouse); guitarist Tad Overbaugh released a solo album in 2015, and drummer John Lynch released a truckload of material with his “other” band, Watts. In addition, an excellent digital compilation, ‘Second Dose’, also provided potential new fans with a handy recap. Whichever way you approach it, the Truckers left their fans with plenty to enjoy during the lengthy sabbatical.

As an album, ‘The Tisbury Joneser’ is much punchier and more professional sounding – at least from a production angle – than anything the Dirty Truckers have laid down before. It’s by no means a commercial sell out, though. Its ten numbers retain the same grubby, Boston rock ‘n’ roll heart that’s been vital to their past work, only this time, the sense of genuine punch and sheer energy sounds more assured and focused. It makes the band’s return not only sound great, but absolutely vital.

Released as a digital single ahead of the album, ‘Remember One’ captures the more commercial aspects of the Truckers’ sound in the most appealing way. At its centre, you’ll find a full compliment of grubby rock that fuses the Rolling Stones obsessions of Watts with a ringing power pop edge that calls back to Soul Asylum’s Twin/Tone years. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll uncover a solid, very warm bassline and a couple of hints from Flamin’ Groovies’ retro pop love, but when all’s said and done, it’s a defiantly simple chorus hook that sticks. At first, it may not be as sharp as some of the band’s other rockier tracks, but the bright tones used when Tom croons the title is enough to make it really work, and between a cool, natural vocal, great riff and a melodic lead guitar break, it is a solid enough reminder of why this band have been a brilliant underground hit for so long.

The rest of the album material is of a similarly high standard. ‘Cut Me Loose’ attacks with chunkier sound, conveying a hint of the UK’s Black Spiders. The core of the melody works a darker guitar tone and gruffer vocal, but manages to cling onto a massive swagger that fits with the rest of the material. A cheeky hint of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ in a couple of the broader vocal inflections reinforces a never ending obsession with the Stones, and a raw rock ‘n’ roll lead break gives way for a shouty refrain before ‘Mi Muchagas’ teases with a blend of roots rock and power pop. There’s a real heart to the track that owes more to some of Baker’s solo work with an increased use of harmonies, and a more melodic lead guitar sound suggests a band not wanting to be stuck in a rut. Essentially, though, it shows its true colours, and it’s still very much the Truckers, whipping up a Boston rock sound, as is their wont. Rest assured that after three or four plays, even with its slightly poppier stance, it has the potential to become a genuine favourite.

‘Let It Go’ reverts to classic Truckers via a very 70s riff that bounces back and forth via a deep toned riff overlaid with the kind of ringing guitars from the world of Watts. Baker’s slightly scratchy vocal always helps the repetitious groove stay on the good side of interesting, and when introducing a busier meter during the numbers second half, he takes the tune from solid retro rock into the realms of something more enduring. What’s really cool here, though, is the arrival of a giant guitar solo that’s used to play out an extended coda. The overall sound shows a solid influence from Mick Taylor and Audley Freed, but still sounds like something very distinctly from the Truckers’ universe.

Going straight for the gut with a slightly punkier edge, ‘Keep It In The Vault’ wastes no time in whipping up a hard rhythm, allowing the band’s multiple guitar attack to punch through every moment. There are times when the Stones on steroids approach might remind some listeners of the more raucous offerings of Izzy Stradlin’s Ju Ju Hounds; there are others where the connections with Watts become glaringly obvious. Whichever way you slice it, this is fantastic, high octane bar room rock, delivered in the sweaty manner the Truckers have long perfected. ‘Just Forget It’ is similarly energetic, and never shy of making a feature of a wall of ringing guitars, throwing out riffs in the manner of a Watts classic; a massive lead cries over a clanging, relentless rhythm, and Baker curls his voice around a sneering melody with ease. With a tough lead used to fill space, it’s a really busy two minute banger, but long time fans will find an instant love.

Trying their hand at something bluesy, ‘Georgia Women’ applies a solid boogie backline to a rootsy groove, pulling traces of a 1972 ZZ Top vintage through the mud, adding a very confident harmonica line for a key melody, and a sneering vocal gives a very different feel compared to your average Truckers workout. Although the blues harp dominates, its worth keeping a close ear elsewhere; some of the guitar parts are augmented with a terrific howl and the rigid bass part shows how well the hard rhythm section can lock down a consistent groove. It’s simultaneously the sound of the band pushing forward for a different retro sound, or reaching further into a past not allowing The Black Keys and Jack White to take all the plaudits. Whichever way you approach it, it’s brilliant – and the harmonica work is an especially inspired touch.

Elsewhere, ‘I Feel Nothing’ presents a sharper rhythm and a nod to the late 70s skinny tie power pop of The Jags and Shoes – allowing for a couple of scorching lead guitar fills – and ‘(You’ve Got The) Shakes Again’ plays very safe with a bar room rocker that fits with the Watts mould and peppers that with the slight country rock strains of Uncle Tupelo. It’s rootsy without alienating the rock fan; Stones-ish without sounding like a direct copy. More importantly, it wastes no time in driving a simple hook to glory. These are very much the kind of things that could’ve fit any of the Truckers’ early albums, but their older and slightly more sophisticated approach affords the melodies a much better send off here.

With the original cuts joined by an absolutely storming cover of The Rolling Stones’ 1972 album cut ‘All Down The Line’ – a cover played straight, treated with absolute reverence and capturing a perfect slide guitar sound throughout – it really feels like ‘The Tisbury Joneser’ caters for classic rock, power pop, and bar room boogie fans of all ages. With a half hour playing time, there’s no time for filler here, and as such, The Dirty Truckers have turned in a really lean set of chorus driven rockers that really cut to the core of their sound. Extant fans can expect this album to become a firm favourite in record time, while the retro sound and love of huge choruses has an even bigger potential to bring new ears nto the fold. It may sound like pure hype, but this isn’t just the Truckers’ career best – at least at the time of release – it’s also one of the most essential LPs of 2022. Up against a great selection of albums by better established and legendary acts released throughout the first half of the year, that’s some feat.

June 2022