Fort Worth has a lot of rock bands. Indie-rock, hard-rock, stoner-rock, punk-rock. But good ol’ fashioned, straight-ahead, unhyphenated rock ’n’ roll? Eh.
But Fort Worth, you could argue, isn’t the only city feeling the no-rawk pinch. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of unhyphenated rock bands anywhere (or at least none getting national airplay and media attention). So what qualifies as “straight ahead”? Well, if there were another term beside “classic rock” to describe the music of contemporary straight-ahead rock bands, we’d use it. Otherwise, we’re left with simply “rock ’n’ roll,” a sound that’s mostly blues-based and plainspoken but also informed by explorations instrumental, compositional, and lyrical. At its heart, straight-ahead rock also has a deep groove.
There are a few bands in the Fort practicing unadulterated rock ’n’ roll (The Hanna Barbarians, Doom Ghost, The Apache 5), and one of the longest-running and best-respected is easily the most prolific, Jefferson Colby.
The trio of frontman/lyricist Danno Mabe, drummer (and older brother) Matt Mabe (Stella Rose, Quaker City Night Hawks, EPIC RUINS, Big Mike’s Box of Rock), and bassist Anthony Sosa (The Raven Charter) released its sixth recording in about as many years in September. Dinosaurs & Fireworks is a blistering array of powerful, colorful rock ’n’ roll songs that edge toward the grunge period of the classic-rock canon. But no sooner did the 12-track album come out than JC began work on album No. 7. Like Dinosaurs and several other JC recordings, Animisms is being done at Sessionworks Studios in Hurst with producer Jeff Mount. “They’re the only ones left,” he said at his studio not too long ago. “Jefferson Colby is the only band doing the same style of music that was hitting in 1995.”
The band has been working with Mount pretty much since the beginning. He was a young engineer at a Dallas studio where Jefferson Colby was sent in 2006 to record a two-song demo as a reward for winning a battle-of-the-bands contest at The Aardvark. “I hated doing those battles of the bands,” Mount said. “I was thinking, ‘Aw, this band’s gonna suck.’ But they came in and blew me away.”
Mount was so blown away that he cast aside the idea of a two-song recording and, on his own time, offered to record everything polished that the band had to offer. The result was a full day of recording and also Jefferson Colby’s debut album, Inadaze. Like all of Jefferson Colby’s albums, the debut was recorded basically live. “We approach recording like a gig,” Matt said, noting that he and his bandmates will often outfit studios with stage lights to enhance the live-setting feel. And Matt never plays in a booth but always in the main room with the rest of the band. That raw, vintage vibe is catnip to Danno. “It’s like 1967 in my mind,” he said. “That’s how we treat everything. All the methods from then are superior to now.”
Jefferson Colby also reserves a lot of room for improv –– at shows and in the studio. “We’re always having fun,” Danno said. “It’s like a big experiment. We don’t work things to death.”
There’s definitely a freewheeling throwback spirit at play in the songs themselves: lots of thundering drums, sweeping passages, wah-wah-inflected solos, sweet vocal harmonies, and lyrics verging on the surreal. In his lyrics, Danno explores wordplay and socio-significant referents. In “Roller Coaster Mobile Saloon” (named after the car he had in high school), he sings in his cranky but masculine voice, “Roller Coaster Mobile Saloon / Stuck in the middle, between a kiss and a monsoon / Highjack the bullfrog train / The easy answer is an enhancer, an upgrade to another plane.”
Danno’s inspiration seems boundless. A full-time student at Tarrant County College, he is never without his journal or a recording device, and he is rarely unattached to a guitar –– he owns about a dozen. “I wake up and play guitar ’til four in the morning,” he said.
He said he’s been asked a few times when he feels his musical bounty will begin to wane. “If anything it’ll only speed up,” he said. “Writing, to me, is like life support. You have to do it. It is how I’m alive. I want to live to be 110 because of what I feel for writing. I just have such a constant influx of curiosity.”
Unlike the other JC albums, the one currently in production, Animisms, will be a concept album. About what, Danno won’t say. And in many ways, the album will be a sophomore effort of sorts –– both Danno and Matt agree that the band was never fully in sync until Sosa arrived in 2010. Like the brothers, Sosa is a Burleson native, actually took bass lessons from the Mabes’ father, Mark Mabe, back in the day. As a songwriter of sorts himself, Sosa can contribute to arrangements and the rifferama in ways that JC’s previous two bass players could or would not. The Mabes picked him up after returning from an East Coast tour full of conflicting ideals. Sosa had just returned to Fort Worth after living for several years in Denton. Sosa was already in another band, but so what? Matt was and still is in several other outfits.
After a few jam sessions, Jefferson Colby went into Sessionworks in February to do Dinosaurs & Fireworks. All three guys and producer Mount agree that it’s their favorite JC album (with 2008’s My Cosmic Self coming in second). “Rorschach,” one of the best tracks off Dinosaurs, is pretty emblematic of the trio’s dynamic, straight-ahead signature rock sound, alternating between funkified Chili Peppers stomp and a trippy, Beatles-esque, wordless vocal refrain in three parts floating above a pulsing, bright, jangly riff. Not every Dinosaurs song is as tautly structured. Most of them are knotty, full of twists and turns, but are never anything less than totally listenable, completely suitable for terrestrial airplay. Just tune that dial back to 1995.
Fri w/Triple SP, Droidekka, The Aurora Crash at Tomcats West, 3137 Alta Mere Dr, FW. $10.