When Tulsa's Mercury Lounge changed ownership and management roughly 18 months ago, something changed at the corner of 18th and Boston. Mercury Lounge had already been hosting a variety of alt-country and American acts and found its niche within the local music scene. It had also found a comfort zone of sorts and started to get stale by booking the same group of bands continually.
Fresh blood in ownership and management breathed a fresh life into the club, however, and while it didn't abandon its niche or the bands it had booked previously, it did start booking more progressively. As a result, Mercury Lounge has once again become a tastemaker and one of the clubs to watch when keeping an eye and ear out for new bands -- especially within the alt-country and Americana genres.
This Thursday night, Mercury Lounge is at it again, bringing Dirty River Boys back to town after a previous introduction. While many current Texas acts veer into contemporary country or blues rock, Dirty River Boys casts its stone a far cry from the standard. Of course, anyone familiar with Mercury Lounge won't be surprised by that as The Merc has catered to conventional Texas country.
Dip into Dirty River and you'll find a steady stream of folk, bluegrass and a touch of southern gospel, all delivered with a rock attitude and twist. In fact, if you didn't know these boys were originally from El Paso, you'd probably think they were from western Oklahoma, not west Texas. The songs are gritty, emotional and far from formulaic with an emphasis on lyrics and storytelling that, when combined with stark acoustic arrangements, have more in common with traditional Red Dirt artists than Eli Young or Randy Rogers.
Formed nearly two years ago in El Paso, Texas, the group consists of Nino Cooper and Marco Gutierrez, each singing as well as playing guitar, harmonica and mandolin; percussionist Travis Stearns and bassist Colton (C.J.) James.
As Stearns explains it, "We wanted to play music for a living so we quit our jobs and went after it. We were playing six or seven nights a week, but found that some places just didn't have room for a full drum kit and electric band, so we broke it down to an acoustic setup with me playing a wooden box, called a Cajon. We kind of did it out of necessity, but that's how we really found our sound."
The arrangement worked so well, that the group only played one or two fully electric shows and settled into the acoustic format that complements and actually strengthens the songs.
It should come as no surprise that a band that has cut its teeth by playing up to seven shows a week is best experienced in a live setting. Even though Dirty River Boys is an acoustic act, that doesn't mean it puts on a subdued show. Instead, the flexibility of the acoustic format gives the band even more opportunity to change things up as all four members sing and play multiple instruments.
According to Marco Gutierrez, "We all sing and switch instruments, so we many all have a Chinese fire drill and swap instruments on stage, which works because we all sing a lot of harmonies. I think we're really traditional bluegrass band with a rock energy."
"When writing, all comes down to what comes from our hearts," he continued. "They are all lyrically based and folk based. I believe in powerful lyrics -- which is our bluegrass side -- and a powerful show, which is where the rock influence comes in."
When discussing the recent shift in music the emergence of more acoustic based artists like Dirty River Boys and The Damn Quails, I asked if the band thought it was part of a backlash to the now formulaic Texas country sound, which has become predominant over the past few years.
"I really couldn't tell you," Stearns said matter of factly. "Being from El Paso, I had no idea what Red Dirt was or who any of the acts were or what they sounded like. We just write and play what we know.
"Out west, where we're from, there's a lot of storytelling going on," he continued. "A lot of these Texas bands don't see that, though. They just see people drinking and dancing. That's all they know, so that's what they write about, which is what I think sets us apart."
Even when Dirty River Boys sing about drinking, it's weaved into a storyline with distinct characters, as it is in "Draw." Even when bordering on bittersweet and melancholy, as on "So Long Elaine" or reaching into a peculiar blend of Beatle-esque harmonies and Rolling Stones grit (see "Magdaline"), the characters are what stand out from the songs more than any particular hook or chorus.
"I think our music stands out because we all have our own influences and let them all come through in our songs," Gutierrez concluded. "We're more concerned with the songs and the stories, though, which sets us apart from a lot of those cookie cutter bands coming from Texas right now. At the same time, there are a lot of fun bands from our region, like The Damn Quails and Sons of Fathers, which we enjoy and have things in common with."
This Thursday night Dirty River Boys return to Tulsa for a show at Mercury Lounge that even the band is looking forward to.
If cookie cutter Texas country is wearing thin and you're ready to check out one of the freshest new bands coming from west Texas, you won't want to miss Dirty River Boys at Mercury Lounge this Thursday night, Feb. 23. Shows like this are the reason that Mercury Lounge stays ahead of the curve and is the best place to catch the hottest new acts. Cover is only $5 and the music starts at 9pm.
Send all comments and feedback regarding Music to email@example.com.
Share this article: