WANDA JACKSON with the RIZDALES at the Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen West), Friday and Saturday (October 19 and 20), 8 pm. $30. 416-536-7717.
THE RIZDALES CD RELEASE PARTY at the Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington), October 27. $8. 416-850-4579. www.rizdales.com. Rating: NNNNN
After a number of stellar Toronto shows backing rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson, the Rizdales are now the band of choice for the hard-hollering legend. She knows the local twang crew can keep up with her hopped-up rockers and downshift for swinging honky-tonk ballads when necessary.
Judging by their ear-to-ear grins every moment onstage with Jackson, who'll be celebrating her 70th birthday at the Cadillac Lounge Saturday night, it's a plum gig the Rizdales are obviously thrilled to play.
And they may even turn some rockabilly rebels onto their own brand of roots country in the process.
The Rizdales' new self-released disc may be called Radio Country, but their cliché-free tunes delivered with tasteful understatement have nothing at all in common with the Nashville product currently aired on new country stations.
"We've been advised by a number of people not even to try sending out discs to any commercial country stations," says guitar picker Tom Dunphy, who leads the band with his fiddling partner Tara Dunphy. "The album is called Radio Country because we're trying to make the kind of music that we enjoy listening to - you know, the stuff by Dale Watson and Wayne "The Train" Hancock. It's what we'd like to hear on country radio, not what's played these days."
The warm, uncluttered sound that Tom and Tara Dunphy hit on is like something that might've been heard on tube radios back in the pre-countrypolitan days. It's conceivable that Dottie West could've hit big with the Rizdales' You're Not To Blame, while Made You Look is tailor-made for Buck Owens. And it's not hard to imagine Bill Anderson and Jan Howard tearing up the charts with the album's closer, Hello To Goodbye. Evidently, they were angling for just that sort of classic country vibe.
"This time around, we approached the production of the album with the idea of getting that sound of the records that were being made in the early 60s by Ken Nelson at Capitol, and even going back as far as what Sam Phillips was doing in Memphis.
"I don't think of what we're doing as retro. It's just that we like certain sounds, such as a good, clean guitar tone, the fiddle and pedal steel. We wanted to be able to hear each of them clearly, so we left adequate space for each part. We also tried to stay away from reverb, and instead went for tape echo using a reel-to-reel deck. It may be crude, but it's very effective in getting the sound we were after."
What prevents Radio Country from coming off like a nostalgia trip is the lyrics, which steer clear of the well-worn phrases and predictable scenarios of old-school country to offer intriguing new takes on the whole cheatin' song thing. Best of all, the Rizdales don't revel in any corny hayseed affectations - these are mature compositions, thoughtfully arranged and sung like they've been lived in.
"There's a school of thought that writing country songs is easy. All you need is a truck, a dog and a wife leaving and you're good to go. But we're trying hard to stay away from that sort of formulaic writing to present a view that's closer to the reality of relationships rather than what's usually expressed in songs. And I've been through a divorce before, so umm... maybe that helps."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
The Rizdales' Tom Dunphy looks forward to every show with rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson
Evidently there may be a recording collaboration between the Rizdales and Wanda Jackson in the works