Concert review: The Dirt Daubers and the Rum Drum Ramblers throw down country blues at the Old Rock House, Tuesday, June 19
St. Louis’ own Rum Drum Ramblers — featuring Joey Glynn on bass and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Koenig, both of Pokey LaFarge’s South City Three — appeared early Tuesday night before a mostly-empty Old Rock House.
Lead singer and guitarist Mat Wilson exploded into “Jack and Tom,” as Glynn thumped away on his bass, his thick chops framing a smile.
Koenig fitted himself with his magic washboard for “Mean Scene,” the title track from the Ramblers’ most recent record. Wilson slid up the neck of his guitar to create hi-pitched squeaks that accented the clicks, dings and scrapes from Koenig’s board. Wilson’s vocals were clean and crisp and appropriately bluesy, almost like a Tom Sawyer-era river-city troubadour doing his best G Love impression. “Nothing New” showcased Koenig scatting with a tinny effect applied to his microphone. Koenig then unleashed a slick harmonica solo before a transition back into scatting.
As the show progressed, the Rum Drum Ramblers invited a baritone saxophonist on stage to help with “Sure Sign.” The long bass notes filled out the tune and mingled with Glynn’s bass adding notes of exhilaration.
Next, the Ramblers invited Kansas City’s Little Rachel up for two songs, “New Ms. Rhythm in Town” and “Each Day,” both originals by Rachel, the vibe more big band meets soul than the Rum Drum Ramblers’ usual style. The Rum Drum Ramblers finished out with “Bumblebees” and “I Got Mine” which had the legendary (and well-known St. Louisan) Daniel whirling in pure dancing ecstasy like an outed black swan.
The Dirt Daubers, a trio from Paducah, Ky., appeared with Koenig supporting on drums and fiddle. After a few searing, barn-burner tracks, the Dirt Daubers — with speed to be seen to believe — offered up an old Dock Boggs tune, “Sugar Baby,” covered on the band’s self-titled 2009 record. Jessica Wilkes played her mandolin with skill and grace, while lead singer and banjo player J.D. Wilkes sang in his best sectarian country-preacher voice. The man’s presence is oddly reminiscent of an Americanized version of Flogging Molly’s Dave King.
Jessica took over singing on “Be Not Afraid” from “Wake Up, Sinners.” J.D. shuffled along on his harmonica and, during the most frenetic parts, threw his free hand up to give the audience a rousing taste of “Jazz hands.”
The traditional folk song “Cindy” stood tall as a pleasure and a surprise. I love that the Rum Drum Ramblers and the Dirt Daubers both offered a few traditional songs to keep the retrospective angle as much alive as each of the band’s forward progress, and to pay tribute to their roots. Yes, the revival is happening — not enough of this in American music these days.
J.D. rocked a kazoo wound into a clothes hanger as Jessica sang on “High and Low.” The back-up “Woah-o-ohs” struck like white lightening as the chorus galloped ahead. Koenig hopped on his fiddle for “Trucks, Tractors and Trains,” and the entire venue hopped along like little dogies. His bow drooped busted horse hair that swung in time as other tenuous bow strands struggled not to give way. “Get Outta My Way” featured more kazoo and some killer harmonica from Koenig as Jessica tackled the lyrics. “All Night Long” sparked the crowd to call out “All night long!” during the chorus.
Fan-favorite and title track, “Wake Up, Sinners,” inspired zealotry and filled spiritual bellies with flame. As J.D. posed like a preacher giving a porch sermon, the rest of the band kept up with his manic pace. A diminished verse gave way to a crescendoed chorus, garnering hoots, happy hollers, and a “Shiiiiiiiiiit yeah!” “Angel on the Tracks,” appropriately hilarious, reminded me of a Kentucky version of the blundering Canadian Dudley Do Right. “Single Girl” allowed Jessica a final moment to showcase her excellent voice and unfold the girl’s riveting single story.
The Dirt Daubers closed their set with “The Devil Gets His Due.” Kazoo mingled with J.D.’s sermonizing and wild vocals. Toward the end, a crazed bass vs. drum solo erupted between bassist Mark Robertson and Koenig to create perhaps the most interesting moment of the evening, as Robertson, wearing a crooked and wicked grin, clearly tried to see if Koenig would “flinch,” so to speak. He did not.
The Dirt Daubers returned for a single-song encore of Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again.” Compared to the original, the track flashed like shotgun fire and featured some subversive yodeling from J.D. After their set, the Dirt Daubers reverted to the Old Rock House’s outdoor porch to smoke and chat. I saw J.D. light up a marbled black pipe that puffed out sweet smoke, appropriate for the man and his music.