Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Detroit Cobras: Tied & True

The Detroit Cobras

Tied & True
Bloodshot Records

The Detroit Cobras and are reknown for being a cover band. That doesn't seem like much, but they've managed to carve out a reputation and a name for themselves by taking mostly obscure r&b songs, recording them with a classic Detroit garage rock cigs, hard liquor and leather jacket style, then bringing them to a wider audience that those songs deserved but never got the first time around. By matching that with their constant touring as both headliners and as a supporting act, The Detroit Cobras have not only rocked their way to a great following, but have also made a tremendous contribution to rock 'n' roll by giving so many great but unknown artists modern rocognition. Most of us love bands that somehow influence us to discover older rock 'n' roll that's groundbreaking and wasn't given due credit in its day. After all, most of us didn't start with bands like The Sonics but got into newer bands that influenced us to look backwards and gain a greater appreciation for where garage, punk, or loud, unadulterated rock 'n' roll came from. Although Tried and True was released last year, The Detroit Cobras are touring right now in support of that release as opening act for the all original lineup of X.

In truth, the The Detroit Cobras always seem to be on tour. It's easy to summarize their sound by Rachel Nagy's top shelf whiskey smooth voice that's almost the true definition of seduction combined with the super lean and tight guitar of Mary Ramirez. Aside from major contributions from Greg Cartwright of The Reigning Sound, their musical trademark is the only constant. In the span of five albums, they've gone through 11 lineup changes, 2 record labels, and countless live shows, but they've also grown musically with a deeper, more soulful, fuller sound. Tied & True is a strong addition to their catalog that highlights this band's growing talents and abilities.

The opening Bob Elgin/Norman Meade penned "As Long as I Have You" gives a strong promise of great things to follow with the line "Born in darkness, but I fought my way up to the sun." The line itself shows the origin of soul from in its gospel theme as an allusion to ascendence, but Rachel's voice range equals that theme by sounding better than it ever has before. It's perfect and only hints at what's yet to come. The song's origin as a "filler" for Garnett Mimms also illustrates how The Detroit Cobras find some of the best songs ever written but never heard and give them the exposure that they deserved but never got the first time around. The Flirtations signature song "Nothing But a Heartache" is a sweet shot of Northern Soul, a term used to describe mid to uptempo soul that had a deeper sound than funk and was embraced by the mod movement prior to psychedelia. A surprising inclusion on Tied and True is John/McDougal/Turner's "Leave My Kitten alone" since it's been covered by The Beatles, The Sonics, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Gruesomes, Peggy Lee, Sam the Sham and The Pharoahs, and countless others, but the lyrical change to "Bitch, I'm gonna have to hit you on the top of your head" in combination with Rachel's voice, the cutesy "meow" background vocals, and the driving rhythm and guitars take it somewhere completely new. It's almost like the song was meant for The Detroit Cobras.

Tied & True goes on to some greater leaps with the cover of Willie James's "Try Love." A slow burner where Rachel's voice considerably softens but keeps a sharp edginess with it's outdated lyrics. There's some further ground broken for the Goffin/Cornfeld/Wine classic originally recorded by one of the first girl groups, The Cookies, with the introduction of acoustic guitar providing the rhythm and some almost Rubber soul based electric riffs sprinkled in. A personal suprise on Tied & True is the transformation of Leadbelly's gospel lyric themed "On a Monday" into a "country music gets fuzzed up Detroit style" rockabilly barndancer. That's an awful lot to combine, but it's almost as if the essence of all forms of American music excluding jazz: Delta Blues, Gospel, Country, and R&B is perfectly combined into one song. If it hasn't occurred to you yet, this combination is cited as what created rock 'n' roll. Therefore, the ambitious version done by The Detroit Cobras actually defines rock 'n' roll. You can't get much cooler than that. Then again, that description is so academic that it's too serious. On Tied & True, it's just great rock 'n' roll that's there for all to shake their hips and get down and dirty. For The Detroit Cobras and for the rest of us, that's how it should be.

Although this video is from an older song, it best describes what it's like to see The Detroit Cobras live:

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