Twenty-five years ago, a working man’s band swam upstream against the tide of electronica, arena rock and Euro-noodling to smack America upside its head and start the rock’n’roll bandwagon rolling again. Scott Kempner (“Top Ten” from The Dictators), Eric Ambel (fresh from Joan Jett and The Blackhearts), bassist Manny Calati and drummer Frank Funaro were NYC guys who thought the segregation of music into genres was absurd. They knew that rock’n’roll came from country, blues and gospel, and so too would their sound.
Call it roots rock, cowpunk, or Americana if you want to, but The Del Lords wrote heartfelt songs about the struggles and joy of life and played them with passion and fire. The first track from this debut album is the brilliant “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live”, and if you need to define the band by a single moment, that’s as good a definition as any.
When Frontier Days announced their presence, radio didn’t get it. But those of us who were yearning for honest rock’n’roll were thrilled to climb on board for the ride, a journey that would last through five albums and a lifetime of memories. Lou Whitney‘s bright production showed off the stellar guitar work of Kempner and Ambel, and while the four vocalists didn’t quite live up to Kempner’s goal of an “East Coast Beach Boys” (and didn’t The Four Seasons already own that title?), the vocals were solid and the album filled with melodic, hooky pop songs filtered through their barroom rock sound.
While millions of teenagers were pumping their fists to Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer” in arenas around the world, The Del Lords were singing about the real adult world with “Livin’ On Love” and “Double Life”. Anyone struggling to get through life, their job, or even their day could appreciate “Get Tough” and “Pledge of Love”; even the comic “I Play The Drums” deals with channeling frustration through music rather than pounding someone in the face. But don’t be fooled by that levity – these guys were as urban, gritty and streetwise in their way as The Clash were in theirs…not to mention Springsteen, Dylan, Presley and other American icons.
Kempner went on to release two excellent solo records and joins The Dictators when they get together; Ambel moved on to become an in-demand producer while continuing to make great music in bands like The Yayhoos; Funaro now plays drums for Cracker. But there’s a new buzz a quarter century later, from rumors of a reunion to the reissue of their catalogue (with bonus tracks). There are many bands whose output can be safely contained in a single greatest hits album, some even with filler. The Del Lords are not . Enjoy one of the finest American bands the way they were meant to be heard – in their entirety – and I highly recommend that you start at the beginning with Frontier Days.
The man who inspired their name.
Del Lords info at AllMusic
The Del Lords on Wikipedia