In 2000, a Metro Times review of these sometimes underappreciated hometown heroes observed, “Since 1988, the Volebeats have been reaching into the recesses of cultural memory to breathe new life into old ideas, building new expectations in the midst of cliché-heavy musical forms.” Indeed, drop the laser needle down randomly on a Volebeats rec and you might hear echoes of Velvet Underground, Gram Parsons, Link Wray, even the Phil Spectorish strains of the Walker Brothers, all filtered through the record collections and personal idiosyncrasies of three (and sometimes four or five) individual songwriters.
Yet most reviewers insist on casting the band along strict y’allternative lines — though the group is more Brian Wilson than Hank Williams, more Lou Reed than Jim Reeves. Maybe the notion of cowpunks hailing from Detroit Rock City provides an irresistibly quaint hook? As if in answer, this 12-song odds ’n’ sods collection of covers, rarities, singles and new material finds the Voles sticking pretty close to alt-country territory. The band originals recall, variously, George Jones, the Everly Brothers and the Eagles (twangy weeper “Too Much Love” should be shopped all over Nashville), and the six covers tell, if on paper improbably, a similar tale. “Maggot Brain” doesn’t seem to alter the Funkadelic template until you realize that’s guest player’s Jon Rauhouse’s pedal steel guitar — arguably the least funky instrument on the planet — snaking around dreamily in the mix. The 13th Floor Elevators’ “I Had To Tell You” is as jangly as a long-lost Whiskeytown side, Slayer’s “Die By The Sword” gets transformed into a grim country dirge worthy of a Flannery O’Connor tribute album, and ABBA’s “Knowing Me Knowing You” takes at least three spins before vestigial memories of the original even start filtering back to you. And paying tribute to 1940s-era Detroit act The York Brothers, the Voles pull off a sleek little country-shuffle cover of “Hamtramck Mama.” (Fun fact: Upon its original release, the song — about a gal of decidedly, um, loose morals — brought down the wrath of the Polish-American community.)
So whether this record is an example of truth-in-album-titling or an ironic nod at the band’s image, on Country Favorites, the Volebeats’ strum und twang is in full effect.
E-mail Fred Mills at [email protected].