They were here. They were there. You may have missed them because you hate live music and/or don't drink and/or only listen to metal and/or only listen to bluegrass. Or maybe you were just busy. But whatever the reason, ladies and gentlemen, a fantastic band from Portland graced the hallowed stages of the Hangar and the Rendezvous without a hoot, a holler, a bang or a whimper, and you were not there.
But that's OK. Because I was. Allow me to set the scene for you: I was walking through the Southeast Alaska State Fair, enjoying the sun when this bit of lyrical fluff alighted in my ear:
"Maybe someday she'll come back again / and I'll be waiting with flowers and champagne."
A clichéd image, for sure. I mean, it certainly doesn't take long at these festivals to find a whiny white boy with a guitar. But in context with the song title, "Chasing Musey," Rob Stroup's lyric doesn't come across as trite but as a tongue-in-cheek bit of songwriter's humor, putting a new spin on the old theme of writing a song about writing songs. The upbeat energy of the tune just adds to the irony, as does the caliber of material available on their website. Based on that, it appears to me that Stroup doesn't have a hard time finding the muse at all.
Hailing from Portland, Ore., Rob Stroup and his band The Blame could be described as an American roots-rock band in the vein of CCR or The Band; their sound comes from the middle ground between folk, rock and country - think Dylan, J.J. Cale, or more recently Wilco. I'm glad I caught their set at the Fair because they're releasing their debut album Glass Ceilings this fall, and if the preview is indication, it is going to be a very solid record that will probably be on repeat at my house for a couple of weeks. Or at least until the grooves are all worn out (the release will be on vinyl and online).
Of the songs available online, the strongest is definitely "Chasing Musey." It's a country kicker, pretty upbeat and the most immediately listenable (hence it's availability on Amazon as a single mp3 download). You can almost hear people dancing and spilling their beer at The Alaskan in the background. The drumming is very present but not overpowering - way better than your dad's old CCR records. Actually, drummer Anders Bergstrom's chops are great; he had some interesting and engaging poly rhythms going on at the fair that are what initially drew me over to the stage to watch the band's performance.
My least fav was "Ghost of the Susquehanna'" because the lyrics seem to wander more than on the other songs. The groove is still great, but I really liked the lyricism of the other three better. Perhaps if the vocal level was a bit higher it would help. Still, it's totally danceable and features fantastic musicianship, and honestly, who listens to the lyrics anyway? [Tyler winks so you'll know he's joking.]
As for my personal fav, I couldn't decide between "Columbus Day" or "Glass Ceilings." They both hearken to the laid-back, sleepy Americana grooves of Iron and Wine and Calexico's 2005 collaboration, "Lays In The Reins," an album that is near and dear to my heart. I would listen to this on a train winding my way from one mountain town to the next, or perhaps across a dusty plain, but definitely at night either way. The sound is intricate and multi-faceted; the pedal steel really fills out the auditory landscape and the electric guitar alternates between some tasty, bluesy leads and unique texturing using delay pedals and classy chord voicings.
So yeah, get online, check out Rob Stroup and the Blame at www.blamerobstroup.com. You won't regret it; I certainly didn't.
Maybe they'll even come back to Juneau if you send them an email and tell them you're sorry and that you don't hate awesome, roots-rock bands from Portland. It might help.
Tyler Preston is a local guitar slinger and singer with his band, the Thundercats, and an avid audio aficionado. Reach him at www.tylerpreston.com.