Ross Kleiner & The Thrill
You Don’t Move Me
Making new music in old styles can be a treacherous undertaking. Some understand the form but lack the proper feeling, and produce anything from a hollow echo to a grotesque approximation of the real thing. Others are hypercorrect in every aspect, but so limit their scope that their music appeals only to a fanatical corps of listeners. (Note: some of my favorite music is just like this.) It is rare to find an artist who understands and respects vintage music, and breathes new life into it, without evoking smirks and snorts, or worse, from his fellow faithful. Enter Ross Kleiner & The Thrill, a band from Minneapolis, Minnesota that approaches rock ‘n’ roll music with a fan’s heart and an expert’s ear, and gets it entirely right.
At the core of The Thrill are Cornelius Watson (guitar) and Victor Span (drums), with Elmer Johnston (bass) and Paulie Cerra (saxophone). Providing additional texture are Jon Duncan (piano and organ), Chico Chavez (bongos and guiro), John Rausch (shakers and tambourine), and Gregory Jong (acoustic guitar). (Note: In the working band’s lineup, Kleiner plays acoustic guitar; Brad Collett replaces Johnston and Robert Russel. Cerra; the additional percussion and keys are omitted.) The blues-tinged, tasteful, and imaginative playing of Watson, a stone killer guitarist from Winnipeg, heats up the proceedings without overpowering them, and Cerra’s nervous, taut riffs flesh out the songs.
Kleiner is an exciting, enthusiastic, and refreshingly unmannered singer, and a capable songwriter. The 14 originals on You Don’t Move Me point up his range. The band revs its collective engine at the starting line with “Mighty Mighty Man,” a raw rocker featuring a tremendous riff, pounding drums, and ringing guitar solos. Reminiscent of The Blasters at their best, this track shows, more than 55 years after “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” just how a nonsense lyric can still improve a chorus. “Go Mad,” a bluesy, stop-time shuffle with stinging guitar, evokes a similar feeling–of Johnny Burnette Trio via Blasters–a few cuts later.
The stripped-down rockabilly boogie “Sleepless Nights” accents Span’s drumming, Johnston’s doghouse bass, and Cerra’s sax before Watson’s guitar shatters the proceedings with Neanderthal force. On the title track, Kleiner warns off his unwanted ex-lover while Span lays down the prototypical hambone beat most often associated with Bo Diddley; the guitar suggests Dick Dale’s Middle Eastern-tinged surf sounds. “Love Machine” recalls the brutal, Diddley-esque R&B of the early Rolling Stones.
“Goodbye Lover,” a quirky tune with an 8-bar structure, melds sunny pop with a vaguely ska-inflected rhythm, yet retains the roots rock flavor of its fellow songs and would work alongside some of Johnny Burnette’s solo sides. “Stealing Kisses,” another up-tempo ’50s-style number cut from similar cloth, rocks harder. Kleiner delivers one of his most spirited vocals on the great jump blues “Clutchin’ Pearls”; breakdowns and a hip middle eight add dynamics and excitement. “Treat Me Right” is jazzy swing in a minor key, with eloquent, whammy-shimmered guitar solos worthy of Brian Setzer.
Kleiner has a real affinity for minor numbers and unexpected notes. “Without You” combines a loping, (spaghetti) Western groove à la “Ghost Riders in the Sky” with surfy guitar and a near-yodeled vocal, to an unexpectedly ominous effect. “The Thrill” features a steamed-window vocal amid Watson’s beautifully fat chording and snaking lines. The excellent “Only Wanna Be With You” blends Latin rhythms and percussion with exotic guitar figures. “Rocksteady” struts coolly and has an almost anthemic quality, in spite of its minor key signature. “I’m Ready,” a laid-back rocker, incorporates touches of surf and rockabilly and a rather tongue-in-cheek, lounge lizard attitude. It is irresistible.
Apart from making a superb album–I daresay it delivers every bit of its promised Thrill–Kleiner’s success is that he absolutely conveys the essence of roots rock, without being overly beholden to any particular stylistic aspect of it. Hence You Don’t Move Me holds tremendous appeal for all lovers of rock ‘n’ roll. Casual fans of Elvis or any of Brian Setzer’s projects, scene-making devotees of The Paladins or Robert Gordon, and obsessively indefatigable rockabilly collectors will all dig Ross Kleiner and The Thrill.
Thanks to the artist for providing the CD for this review.