Well, they’re buds with Old 97’s, they’re signed to Saustex Records, they recently played Guido’s, and they come by way of Texas via Baltimore. Western Star like to call themselves either alt-country or garage rock, but the truth is that they’re just a whole hell of a lot of fun. Don’t bother trying to box them into one genre or any one influence. Instead, just sit back, relax, and turn the volume to 11.
Why? Because the quartet’s latest set, “Fireball,” is actually that good. It’s a throwback of sorts — a modern-age rock record that is stripped of all the modern age. It’s boozy and raw with just as many punk textures as there are Southern and Western ethos. There’s something excitingly new about how old everything sounds. Maybe it’s the hunger. Maybe it’s the energy.
Or maybe this band is, again, just that good.
Take the title track, which announces itself with as much fury as it does attitude. Produced by Ken Bethea of Old 97’s fame, it opens with a car crash of noise before settling into a classic uptempo groove tailor-made for a sweaty summer night of pure, unadulterated rock. Plus, with an opening line like, “A rock and roll show rages away in the basement every night,” singer Max Jeffries asserts himself as the leader of a musical crusade impossible to resist.
“For Cryin’ Out Loud” and “Ghost Chaser” keep the spirit intense with their vigor and delicious recklessness. The former slips seamlessly from a ball of pandemonium to genuinely addictive garage rock on a dime, drummer Bob Shade masking his chops with enviable loose play that makes the vibe sweat. The latter, meanwhile, is anchored by a Southern guitar lick that fits perfectly with the constant noodling that is placed on top of it every few seconds. By the time the bridge comes and the soloing truly begins, you understand precisely how tasteful and capable these guys are as players.
Even pulling back the intensity works. “Aeroangel” is a throwback waltz that marries doo-wop with updated indie rock inspiration. The guitars from Jeffries and Justin Myers interweave in such a refined manner, you kind of get the feel like they were born to play off one another. Once Jeffries hits an unexpected-yet-impressive falsetto near the end of the track, any un-won hearts should be melting by the second.
Conversely, “Clockwork” is the punkiest these guys get, and man, does it rage. By the time Jeffries gets to the song’s latter half, his screams become infectious in the same way Refused’s Dennis Lyxzén often demands attention and respect. It’s bratty, but aged, high-pitched, but precipitous. The beat eventually cuts itself in half, and a bit of a breakdown ensues, but never does the sound of a shriek cease, all the way until the track’s final second. Ditto for “The Difference,” which practically bleeds the aroma of a half-empty PBR can.
The best moments, however, are the most accessible. “Forever And A Day” should have been a college radio station hit sometime in 1994, and that’s without apology. It’s probably the most Old 97’s-ish move that these guys make throughout all 12 songs. “Lady Killer,” meanwhile, kicks into gear with the help of Shade’s drums and a bright, if not slightly irresistible, guitar lick. Plus, the hook — “Used to think I was going to turn out be some kind of lady killer” — will stick in your head for days if you let it. The mix of resignation, reflection, and rancor displayed in Jeffries’s voice is a thing of beauty.
Truth is, most all of “Fireball” is a thing of beauty. Drenched to the bone in perspired alcohol, these 12 songs embody a woebegone, very specific flavor of music that sounds so fresh, it’s almost novel anymore. They wear the flag of tried and true rock and roll with pride, and they do it better than most anyone else around. May they shine on with the intensity of a thousand suns from now until forever.
For this is a Fireball that burns brighter than all the stars around it.
*** 3 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 ***